• Sonja McGeachie

Communication through Joint Engagement

Updated: Dec 15, 2019

Children with Autism have difficulty with joint engagement. It’s challenging for them to pay attention to both an object and a person while interacting or playing. Because of this, they end up spending a lot of their time playing with toys on their own, without involving other people. This means that they are missing valuable opportunities to interact and communicate.

Why is joint engagement important for communication development?

When children learn to pay attention to an object and their caregiver at the same time, it signals a very important step forward in their development. One of the main ways children learn to understand and say new words is by hearing adults talk about objects that the children are playing with or looking at. Seeing or handling the object or doing an action while the adult talks about it helps the child match the words to what they mean.

There are many other important skills that children learn through joint engagement, including how to:

- Take back-and-forth turns,

- Shift their gaze between an object and the adult,

- Imitate the adult’s actions,

- Follow instructions,

- Use gestures, sounds or words while playing

- Play with a toy in new ways

- Interact for longer periods of time

- Have fun while playing with people and objects at the same time

Research has shown a strong link between joint engagement and communication development and because it’s so critical for communication development, finding ways to encourage joint engagement with children with Autism is an important goal in my therapy practice.

As Christmas and the Winter Holidays are round the corner we focused today on thinking about festive Christmas jumpers. My little learners and I had fun today selecting and talking about our favourite colours, shapes, and glitter to decorate our paper dolls with. We took turns with our brushes and helped each other putting glue and tinsel on our works of art. Tadaaah! Amazing!! Not only was it an opportunity for new vocabulary and fine motor skills but we also practised the art of sharing and paying attention to what each other were doing!


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