So, we know that deficits in joint attention skills are one of the earlier-appearing red flags for autism. We also know that early intervention for the autistic population should include tasks to develop joint attention. And early intervention should involve parents. Schertz and Odom (2007) combined these concepts and found that when parents take the lead in designing and implementing activities (with a little help/guidance from a professional) to promote joint attention skills, magic can happen—all three toddlers in this study improved their joint attention skills.
The researchers stress that the parents did most of the work. The parents came up with activities and carried through with their plans in natural environments. The interventionist took a backseat role; however, he or she also served as a teacher of theory and best-practice for the parents.
What activities did the parents do with their children? (Or, what can we as SLPs teach caregivers to do to promote joint attention skills?)
focusing of faces: mirror play, imitating facial expressions, putting the parent’s face in the child’s line of sight
turn-taking: responding to child’s actions as if the child were actually interacting with them, building in some pause time after the parent’s utterance to wait for the child’s response, imitation of the child’s gestures, working the parent into the child’s isolated play
responding to joint attention: sharing attention to the same object through parent initiations (making the toy exciting, and practicing looking between the toy and the parent’s face)
initiating joint attention: parents expressed excitement about the toy, or giving the child surprise gifts to increase excitement.