Describing the Relationship between Joint Attention Episodes and Language Skills in Children with Language Delays



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Joint attention is described as shared attention between two persons and a third object or event. Joint attention can further be divided into acts of initiating joint attention (IJA) and responding joint attention (RJA). During IJA, a member of a dyad initiates drawing their partner’s attention to an object of interest. For RJA to occur, the opposite member of the dyad responds to their partner’s bid for attention (Mundy & Newell, 2007). Similar to joint attention, joint engagement is described as sharing an event or object with a partner whereby a partner acts in ways that enhance the other partner’s experience and understanding (Adamson et al., 2010). Conceptually, joint engagement is about the encompassing interaction experience, and joint attention is a skill used during joint engagement. The importance of joint attention and joint engagement to language development in typically developing children and children with autism is thoroughly researched; however, the importance of these same skills in children with language delays is often overlooked. Children are considered language delayed if they are less than two years old and have a receptive/expressive vocabulary of less than 50 words (Paul, 1991; Rescorla, 2011). The goals of this study were to describe joint attention, joint engagement, and language development in children with language disorders and describe how these constructs are related. To accomplish these goals, six mother-child dyads were recorded playing for 15 minutes, and the middle 10 minutes of their play was coded for acts of joint attention, joint attention episodes (JAEs), and use of language. Information regarding children’s receptive and expressive vocabulary were gathered from parents’ responses to the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Developmental Inventory (Fenson et al., 2007). Results were analyzed using the Ordinal Pattern Analysis (Crossed Orderings) function in the Observation Oriented Modeling software. A modest pattern was found such that as the children’s acts of IJA increased, so too did their receptive vocabulary (RV), expressive vocabulary (EV), mean length of utterance (MLU), and moving average type token ratio (MATTR). In contrast, the pattern of increased RJA and increased language skills was quite weak. Stronger patterns were found for JAEs such that as the dyad’s engagement in JAEs increased, so too did the children’s EV, MLU, and MATTR. Finally, modest patterns were found for the length of JAEs and the children’s language such that the longer the children were engaged in JAEs, the longer their utterances and TTR were. These results suggest that joint engagement plays an equal if not more important role in promoting language skills in children with language delays.



joint attention, joint engagement, children, language delay, joint attention episodes