Joint Attention Skills in Children

A necessary skill for developing language

What is Joint Attention?

Joint attention is a skill that usually presents itself in typically developing children around 12 months of age. “At this age, infants can initiate joint attention using gestures and speech” (Igualada, et al., 2015, p.43). An infant performs joint attention by gazing at an object, then to an adult, and then both the infant and the adult gaze at the mutual object. This is why it is referred to as a triadic gaze. An invisible triangle could be formed if you were to trace the gaze between the infant, the adult, and the object.

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The Importance of Joint Attention

- Joint attention, or the triadic gaze, has been deemed a skill that is essential to a child’s ability to process, store, and apply information.

-Joint attention sets some of the foundation for communicative competence.

-There is a large amount of evidence that supports the theory that joint attention abilities are linked to later language development (Igualada, Bosch, and Prieto, 2015, p. 43).

Assessment and Intervention


One common form of assessment is a “gaze- following task” (Miller, S. E., & Marcovitch, S., 2015, p. 105). This assessment simply requires hanging posters in a room, having the clinician stand amongst the posters, and then having the clinician call the child’s name in order to direct their attention to the clinician (Miller, S. E., & Marcovitch, S., 2015, p. 105).


One way that clinicians use intervention for joint attention skills is by playing social engagement games with a child. According to Rao and Ashok (2014), “social engagement games are routines and activities that encourage [joint attention] in the form of better eye contact, interaction and gaze alternation” (p. 294). These games should match the interest of the child, be developmentally age appropriate, repetitive, and short in duration. Once the child’s joint attention skills improve, the clinician should change the game. Changing the game increases the child’s interest and level of participation (Rao, V. S., & Ashok, M., 2014, p. 295).

Joint Attention Test


[FLEMISHDOG]. (2010, Aug. 7). Joint Attention Test [Youtube]. Retrieved from

Igualada, A.. Bosch, L., & Prieto, P. (2015). Language development at 18 months is related to multimodal communicative strategies at 12 months. Infant Behavior And Development, 3942-52.

Miller, S. E., & Marcovitch, S. (2015). Examining Executive Function in the Second Year of Life: Coherence, Stability, and Relations to Joint Attention and Language. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 101-114.

Rao, V. S., & Ashok, M. (2014). Joint Attention Routines in Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal Of Indian Association For Child & Adolescent Mental Health, 10(4), 292-298. Retrieved from