The Basic Elements of Shared or “Joint attention”

Visual Domain

Most of early JA is visual, and visual JA is pervasive in social interaction that takes place when people are physically in the same area.  Also, language stimulates others to think, and when they think, they visualize.  Visual memory deficit is a major reason for problems with perspective-taking and episodic memory[DS5] :

Gaze Detection

This is a simple awareness that another person is looking at something.  This is an important first step in perspective taking because we generally assume that what someone is looking at is what they are attending to, or in other words, what is on their mind and what they are thinking about.

Most higher mammals know when you are looking at them.  Knowing whether someone is looking or not looking at you is a very basic element of JA.  Understanding in a cognitive way that because someone looks at you they can see you is not something mammals can really do.  They tend to go on instinctual responses to eye-contact.

Gaze Following

This has to do with the ability to follow someone else’s eyes in order to determine what they are looking at.  As mentioned, we are conditioned to assume that what someone is looking at is what they are thinking about.

We learn a lot from following other people’s gaze, learning it early in development and doing it for the rest of the lifespan.  First, we get an idea of what a person can see or not see, which eventually leads to an understanding of what others know or don’t know (Theory of Mind or ToM).

We also learn what other people think is important, which helps us develop a value system for learning what relevant versus irrelevant stimuli are all about.

Gaze Monitoring

This has to do with watching another person’s eyes to see whether or not they share the same referent, after one makes a joint attention bid.  You see evidence of this when someone points to something and then looks to see if you are looking in the right place.

Gaze Directing

Gaze directing is the active part of directing another person’s attention.  The skill requires all of the skills above.  Attempts to manage another person’s attention are called JA bids.

Auditory Domain

When we listen to each other talk, we actively share referents.  These referents are often ideas that we actually visualize in order to understand, so it comes back to vision anyway.  Also, the ways we determine whether someone is listening are mostly visual, although we have devices to detect whether others share referents through auditory forms of communication.

There isn’t much written about this, but it seems to fairly common sense that there is such a thing as Auditory Joint Attention (AJA).  We ask people to listen, and we have ways of determining whether they are listening and whether they share the same referent.  To analyze AJA, I’ll use the same heuristic as VJA:

Auditory Detection

How do we tell if someone hears us?  There are signs we look for (e.g., they interrupt their action for a moment; they orient to the sound; they respond somehow to what we said, etc.).

Auditory Following

If we can tell someone is listening to something, we might make attempts to listen to what they are listening to.

Auditory Monitoring

If we are talking or singing or making noise, we look for the signs that the other has heard us.

Auditory Directing

We speak louder, make attention-orienting sounds, or say words like, “Listen.”

Shared Attention in the Proximal Senses of Touch, Proprioception, Balance, Smell and Taste

What about the other senses?  Do we not know whether someone smells something that we smell?  If I sneak a cigarette – would others know that I was smoking (the cigarette smell being the shared referent)?  Don’t we have an idea that when we burn incense that others will smell it and can’t we tell if they do or not (smell detection)?  Don’t we monitor (“Can you smell that?  Do you smell apple pie?”)?  Don’t we direct others (“Take a whiff.”)?

What about taste?  If I sneak salt into your coffee, wouldn’t I expect you to detect that?  Wouldn’t I look to or listen determine if you detected the salt?  You get the point.

When doing C-LDT, you follow the child’s attention assiduously.  In a stricter format such as Floortime, you would follow this anywhere (with a lower functioning child at least), including toward the child’s circular behaviors (stims).  In Floortime, you join circular behaviors as you would any other of the child’s interest, although in SCS C-LDT, this becomes a decision made by the team whether to do this or not.

But in every C-LDT, the adult strives to form JA frameworks or “JA Frames.”  A JA frame exists when the both partners know they share the same referent (it isn’t necessarily a JA frame when the child is unaware of your presence or does not engage with you in circles of communication).

To do this, the adult tries to position herself in the easiest position for the child to see her.  The adult should never be behind the child.  Objects should be held close to the adult’s face if possible.  One of the reasons Floortime is called Floortime is because the adult gets down there on the floor with the child – in order to establish shared attention frames.