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Joint attention

What is joint attention?

Joint attention is the sharing of a moment between two people when they both know that they are focused on the same thing.  You might also hear the terms ‘shared attention’ or ‘shared/joint engagement’.

This means a child can focus their attention on the person they are communicating with, but also on the object or event they are communicating about.

Two faces looking at each other an arrow points from one person's eye to the other to suggest eye contact

Usually it involves the child looking at the adult, then at an object they are interested in and back at the adult again. They are trying to show you something, simply for the purpose of socially sharing something interesting.


Why is joint attention so important for social communication development?

The world

It means a child can share their interests about the world verbally or non-verbally

smiling face with heart alongside and a thought bubble containing a tick

The child and adult will connect about the shared interest between them

two people talking to each other

Adults will use a word or gesture to comment on that interest which the child will hear and learn from

What helps children share attention? A smiling face with a lightbulb in a thoughtbulb to show a good idea

The best way to support joint attention is by changing the way that we play. There are lots of different approaches that you can use that will help:

Children find it harder to share attention when adults:

  • ask lots of questions or tell them what to do
  • ask children to focus on something they’re not interested in
  • try to guide how a child plays

Additional resources and information

This article from the Hanen Centre explains what is joint attention and how to help children develop joint attention: http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/Paying-Attention-to-Childrens-Joint-Attention.aspx

This video from the Hanen Centre talks about joint engagement in children with an autism diagnosis:

If your child is autistic or has communication difficulties, they may have differences in how their joint attention develops.

Contact us

For more information please contact the Speech and Language Therapy Service at Flockton House on 0114 226 2333.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: SL20

Resource Type: Article

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