A Closer Look at Neurotypical and Nerodivergent and Joint Attention Behaviors By Kelli Bavaro, M.S., CCC-SLP

What is joint attention? Joint Attention involves two or more people sharing focus on something; paying attention to the same object, person, action or concept. 

How do you know that a child is listening to you? 
1) You say their name and they turn toward you
2) When you point at something, they turn to see the object or item.
3) Or p
erhaps the child maintains eye contact with you, nods along, or inserts “Mm-hmm!” to let you know that they are on the same page. 

But there may be other ways a child can show joint attention:
1) The child looks
away from you
2) M
aybe they touch a nearby object or produce a subtle action
3) They adjust their body orientation.

The last 3 examples are more subtle displays of joint attention. These examples can be easy to miss until we tune in to and learn about the child in a loving and respectful manner. As a society and as an American culture, the ‘norm’ is to use those first 3 as forms of joint attention; because that’s how neurotypical people or the neuro majority tend to demonstrate joint attention. But why should the burden of change fall on a neurodivergent person?

Imagine you were paying attention to someone, but preferred to look away. Maybe eye contact is painful for you or makes your body feel dysregulated and ungrounded.

Imagine you were paying attention to someone, but preferred to look away, so the speaker just kept repeating your name over and over again, louder and louder every time.

Imagine that person eventually became upset with you because they didn’t think you understood anything they were saying. Imagine you understood everything they were saying, but had to endure being treated incompetently anyway. 

Rather than creating and upholding our expectations on how one should show joint attention, we might instead:
1) Establish rapport; build a connection.
2) Learn how each child shows joint attention.
3) Presume competence.
4) Learn about their interests and level of language comprehension in a loving, respectful way.

Bavaro, Kelli. “Let’s Talk About Neurodiversity and Joint Attention.” Chatterboxes, November 10, 2022 

Our therapetic goals at Chatterboxes are not to turn an autistic person into a non-autistic person. Rather, our SLP’s work to support an autistic person who struggles to become an autistic person who doesn’t struggle
We welcome your questions, feedback and thoughts on this topic. Should you like to discuss in more detail, please contact your clinician, or our Clinical Supervisor, Kelli Bavaro, M.S.,CCC-SLP via email at Kelli@TeamChatterboxes.com