In a post last week, I mentioned that I’ve been assessing typically developing babies as I participate in standardizing a new evaluation tool for infants and toddlers. In the past two weeks I’ve met a 5-month-old, a 6-month-old, a 7-month-old, an 8-month-old and a delightful set of twins who just turned one.
Oh. My. Goodness.
What a joy these sweet little ones have been!
As a pediatric SLP who has spent the last 20 years working with 2- and 3- year olds with developmental delays, and as a mother of 3 children who have all grown up and left me (sniff, sniff), sometimes I feel like I’ve seen it all and done it all. But to my utter amazement, every time I’ve met with one of these babies I’ve been blown away by typical development! One thing that’s been so pronounced to me is how EARLY and EASILY joint attention has developed in these very young children.
For those of you who don’t work in early intervention, let me provide an everyday explanation of “joint attention.” Joint attention occurs when two people share an interest in the same object or experience. When a child shifts his eye gaze between something he sees and another person, he’s including the other person and looking for their reactions.
Many children with developmental delays, particularly autism, have difficulty shifting their focus between objects and people. For example, a mom may offer her toddler his favorite cookie, and the child intently reaches for the cookie without looking back at his mother’s face. Or I might see difficulty with joint attention during a therapy session when I introduce a cool toy and then I “disappear” because my little client can’t focus on both the toy and me.
I came to an exciting epiphany during my recent “baby assessments.” I noticed that every time I lapsed in to “therapy me,” I became a total DISTRACTION!
When I’ve presented the familiar toys in the assessment kit, every one of these babies has quickly shifted their attention to me any time I’ve made the slightest sound! I’ve been having a hard time not excitedly whispering “Wow” each time I move on to a new toy. Even when I’ve managed not to talk, I still can’t seem to resist using sound effects. Doesn’t everybody instinctively pant like a puppy when you take out the dog-shaped Little Tikes flashlight?
After watching some of the early assessments, I’ve realized that I’m probably ruining the results!
I didn’t have to work to get them to include me. Actually, I’ve had to turn away, cover my face, and SHUT UP so they could focus on the testing materials. I’ve had to pull it way, way back just so we could get through the questions! That’s been very tough for this SLP, who adores babies and is somehow STILL amazed by language development.
That’s just one more thing I love about what I do, my job continues to surprise me!
Until next time…
After writing this post, I realized that the majority of you who read this post may need help teaching joint attention. It’s such an important part of learning to communicate. Working on joint attention and social interaction is where I begin therapy with ALL late talking toddlers. Learning how to connect with another person is the starting point for every child who is nonverbal, no matter what the issue is. If you need help with this, let me suggest the ideas in my book Teach Me To Play WITH You. You’ll find dozens of simple activities you can use with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers to build a strong foundation for understanding and using words.