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  • Helen Deduonni, M.S., CCC-SLP

Everyone's Talking about Joint Attention!

In the world of speech language pathology, we talk a lot about joint attention. We talk about the importance of establishing joint attention, what that might look like, and how your child can get there. Joint attention is an important foundational skill for children to develop early on. But what is joint attention and what does it look like?

You may have read many different definitions for joint attention but the general idea is when two people are looking at and paying attention to the same object or event. It requires both people to know the other person is attending to the same thing.

This is critical for language development and social skills because joint attention helps the child develop other important skills simply by paying attention. Social referencing is part of joint attention and it often occurs when a child looks to you for additional information about a situation. Children learn to read your nonverbal body language such as facial expressions, tone of voice, etc. in order to

determine how they should react to the situation.

So just what does joint attention look like? The first indicator of joint attention is when your child follows your point or they point, look at you, look at the object, and then back at you. This is your child asking you for more information or they are initiating joint attention to get you to look at what they are attending to. Suddenly joint attention is established and language and social interaction begins. The more you can respond to these moments, the more your child will continue to develop and strengthen this skill.

So what can you do at home to encourage joint attention? You can focus on faces and making eye contact with your child. While eye contact is socially appropriate,

it may not always be comfortable for all kids. Use highly preferred toys to engage with your child and play with what they are playing by

following their lead. In addition, during those play moments, use highly animated voices, gestures, and facial expressions to continue to build that joint attention. Children love praise so use it whenever you can and be explicit (ex: yay! You popped the bubbles!).

Joint attention is about sharing an experience with your child. They look to you for attention and you can continue to promote it by following their lead and using verbal language to stimulate language, social, and cognitive development!


Ebert, Cari. The Learning to Learn Program, pg 42.



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