Joint attention means that you and another person visually match to look or pay attention to an object or event. You both have the same focus and you both know that you have the same focus.

Joint attention starts to develop when children are babies. From the first look into their parent’s eye, babies get endorphins from the connection. That’s right! Endorphins! Endorphins relieve stress and create a feeling of happiness. Babies are internally rewarded for making face connections and it makes them want to seek more social connections! Joint attention helps babies learn language. The early back and forth using looking becomes the backbone of the same back and forth that we use in communicating with each other. In fact, joint attention at age 3 will predict language development at age 9! Early joint attention impacts cognitive ability, behavior, social ability, and language.

Autistic children may not get the same pleasure or information from the early visual connections. Some people think of joint attention as ‘eye contact.’ IT IS SO MUCH MORE. When you are looking at something, the brain gathers information and interprets about what you are looking. If the brain’s focus is concentrating on the mouth or an eyebrow, it will give you different information than sharing attention with another person using your eyes. The good news is by making more frequent connections. The brain learns to collect that information. That is the big deal about joint attention.

Dr. Sylvia Diehl

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