“Joint attention is the shared focus of two individuals on an object. It is achieved when one individual alerts another to an object by means of eye-gazing, pointing or other verbal or non-verbal indications. An individual gazes at another individual, points to an object and then returns their gaze to the individual.”
What if your child suddenly lost the ability to do this? What if your beautiful baby who used to watch your face and giggle and react to whatever faces you made stopped doing this? What if your child started being more fascinated in looking and touching the toys or “things” more then interacting with you? What if your child would avoid looking at you to get your attention and let you share the joy they were having in that toy or thing? What if your child stopped looking over his or her shoulder to try and catch your gaze and see what you are doing? What if you child didn’t point at anything to show you?
“The ability to share gaze with another individual is an important skill in establishing reference. The ability to identify intention is important in a child’s ability to learn language and direct the attention of others. Joint attention is important for many aspects of language development including comprehension, production and word learning. Episodes of joint attention provide children with information about their environment, allowing individuals to establish reference from spoken language and learn words. Socio-emotional development and the ability to take part in normal relationships are also influenced by joint attention abilities. The ability to establish joint attention may be negatively affected by deafness, blindness, and developmental disorders such as autism.”
What if you had to teach your child to point and share what they were looking at? What if you had to take a toy and hold it up to the side of your face to get your child to look in the direction of your face? Then if you still don’t have eye contact you have to wave the toy around your eyes and really try to look your child in the eye and get that single moment or interaction before your child snatches the toy back. Imagine then having to do this over and over again in order to get more interactions, increase eye contact, and get your child to request by pointing for the item.
Imagine that while other parents are teaching their toddler or preschooler how to be more independent that you have to put items out of reach or in clear containers so your child HAS to ask you for it and then model the language that should be used. What if you had to learn how to turn every day run of the mills tasks into teaching opportunities in order to create more speech opportunities and social interactions?
Johnny is 5-1/2 now and has a very direct and strong gaze. Ever since he was a newborn he would stun family members by looking so deeply into their eyes as if he could see something that no one else could. At around 18 months we noticed that he would gaze away at other things and would not give us his soul searching looks like he used to. It was harder to get his attention when we talked to him or if we were teaching him a life skill and we were worried. Some people described it as if he was in his own world again but to me it looked like he was depressed. I often feel like he was very frustrated that he was now non-verbal and being at the playground or play groups was very challenging. How do you stop another child from taking the toy you are playing with? How do you ask someone to play with you ? How do you tell your Mommy and Daddy how you feel?
Everything is changing right now as Johnny is becoming a better communicator and a better socializer but I will never forget those days when it was so hard to just get that one look.
Quotes from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_attention