Two children playing with a ball togetherWhat is Joint Attention?

When one person purposefully coordinates his or her focus of attention with that of another person, we refer to the behavior as  “joint  attention.” Joint   attention   involves   two   people paying  attention  to  the  same  thing,   intentionally   and   for   social reasons. Imagine, for example, that a teacher points to her desk and says to a child, “Look at that big apple.” The child looks at the place the teacher has pointed and sees the apple. In this situation, the teacher and the child have engaged in joint attention—that is, they shared attention to the apple on purpose.

Why is Joint Attention Important?

Children who are learning social and communication skills in a typical way will often show examples of joint attention from the time they are 12 months old. Joint attention is important in helping people communicate with each other all through life. Children with autism have a hard time with this kind of communication. For these children, delays in developing joint attention skills lead to delays in developing language. And we all know how important language is to everyday life. Children with autism who are able to use spoken language by the age of five generally have better success in school, in social relationships, and in their adult lives than children who do not get to that level of communication skills as preschoolers.

Intervention Can Help

Exciting research has shown that preschool children with autism can learn joint attention and symbolic play skills and these skills will help them later in life. For example, learning joint attention and symbolic play skills in the preschool years has been shown to lead to much better language skills for children with autism. Better language skills, in turn, mean better social skills with adults and other children, higher academic performance, and better success in work and independent living as an adult. ASAP is designed to help teachers, therapists, and parents teach these skills to preschool children with autism.