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Multiple Effects of Joint Attention Intervention for Children with Autism

Jones, E. A., Carr, E. G., & Feeley, K. M. (2006). Multiple effects of joint attention intervention for children with autism. Behavior Modification, 30, 782-834.

Reviewed by Kathleen Moran, MA
Caldwell College

Why research this topic?

Joint attention occurs when two people share a focus on objects or events in the environment. Typically developing children both initiate and respond to joint attention by the time they are about 9 months old, and this skill helps them learn to communicate back and forth with another person. In contrast, young children with autism seldom display joint attention—a problem that hinders them from learning to communicate. Therefore, interventions to improve joint attention may be a priority in early intervention programs for these children.

What did the researcher do?

The authors tested an intervention that had two components: a structured teaching format called discrete trial instruction (DTI) and a format for teaching during naturally occurring activities called pivotal response training (PRT). Participants were five preschoolers with autism. All participants entered the study at the same time and were observed for several days before any of them received intervention. Then the start of the intervention was staggered across children to find out whether the intervention increased children‘s responding to and initiating joint attention regardless of when it began

Later, parents of two of the five children were trained to implement DTI and PRT for joint attention at home and in the community, and these parents were asked about changes in their child‘s language and social behavior following intervention.

What did the researchers find?

The intervention increased joint attention at school and with parents at home and in the community. According to parents, the quantity and quality of their child‘s interactions improved, and their child appeared happier.

What are the strengths and limitation of the study?

The success of the intervention suggests it is possible to address core deficits of autism such as joint attention by systematically teaching specific skills with behavioral interventions. In addition, joint attention may be a pivotal skill that can lead to improvements in other important areas, such as expressive language and social communication. Future research needs to involve larger groups of students and more careful assessment of collateral changes in domains such as plan and language acquisition.