Joint Attention Across Contexts in Normal and Autistic Children
University of California at Los Angeles
In the last few years, a great deal of research has focused on the use of joint attention by the infant and young child. For the most part, this research has examined normative patterns of development. Less attention has been paid to individual differences within typically developing groups or to differences due to developmental delay or psychopathology. Yet, children vary in their ability to regulate attention, their level of social understanding, and their interest in the reactions of other people. For this reason, it seems worthwhile to investigate the extent to which individuals differ and how these differences might be related to cognitive and language development.
Joint attention has been defined both narrowly and broadly in the research literature. In the narrower definition, the term joint attention refers to "looking where someone else is looking" ( Butterworth, 1991, p. 223). This occurs when infants notice that another person has turned their eyes or head in a certain direction and the infants follow suit, or when infants move their head or eyes in the same direction as someone is pointing. Besides this kind of responsive joint attention, infants can also initiate joint attention by holding up something for another person to see or by pointing at something themselves. The broader definition of joint attention includes these responsive and initiating behaviors as well as the checking of another person's face that occurs while the infant is playing with something, when the infant has accomplished some task, after the infant has pointed to something, or in an ambiguous situation. We have used this broader definition in our previous work and continue to do so in this chapter. While some authors in this book use the narrower definition, our definition