Joint Attention – Gaze Following

August 7, 2013 6:28 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Following up to the blog, Joint Attention – Making Eye Contact a Reinforcer, this blog will outline another procedure to teach a joint attention skill, specifically following a person’s point or a person’s gaze. One of the definitions of joint attention includes “looking where someone else is looking,” (Sigman and Kasari, 1995). In order to do this, we need to make looking at the same event or object another person is looking at a reinforcer for our kids! How can we do this?

In his 2006 article The Operant Analysis of Joint Attention Skills, Per Holth outlines a pre-training and training protocol to teach following a person’s point or eye gaze. In the pre-training phase, the adult and child should be seated face-to-face at opposite sides of a table. The adult shows a potentially reinforcing item to the child (e.g., an edible, small toy, etc. – something that can fit under an opaque cup). The adult asks the child to turn around or cover his/her eyes – the child should not be able to observe what the adult is doing. Without the child looking, the adult puts the preferred item under one of two opaque cups turned upside down on the table and asks the child to turn around and/or look. The child should then point to one of the cups (physical prompts can be used and faded out as necessary). The adult lifts the cup that is pointed to and if the preferred item is underneath, the child can have it. If the item is not underneath that cup, the adult can do one of two things: 1. The adult lifts up the other cup to show the child and then has the child start over and try again or 2. The adult allows the child to point to the other cup and obtain the preferred item. (These choices depend on the level of tolerance the child has for being incorrect and having to try again) The importance of this pre-training exercise is to establish that choosing the correct cup will result in a reinforcing item. The next task is to teach the child that the best way how to choose the correct cup is to follow the adult’s point or eye gaze.

During the eye gaze training protocol, the same pre-training arrangement is established. This time, however, when the child turns back around to see the cups, the adult should look at the correct cup. It is recommended when beginning this protocol for the adult’s face to be as close to the cup as possible when looking at it, in order to be a more obvious stimulus instead of only the eye gaze. As the child is successful in choosing the correct cup, gradually fade your face away from the cup. The ultimate goal is for the adult to sit laid back in their chair and simply move their eyes to the correct cup!

The pointing protocol is the same as described above except the adult is pointing to the correct cup. During this protocol, the distance between the adult and child and the cups can be increased, so the child is learning to follow an adult’s point from a distance, which mimics what happens most frequently in the natural environment (e.g., mom points to a bird in the sky for Jenny to see).

Other variations and ways to generalize this protocol include: putting multiple cups on the table instead of only 2; increasing the distance between the adult and child and the cups; using different opaque containers; having the child hide an item for you and use his/her eye gaze or point to let you know where the preferred item is; and having two peers do this together instead of adult and child (kids find this to be a really fun activity!)

By using this protocol, you are conditioning looking where a person is looking as a reinforcer, which will increase the frequency of this important joint attention skill. Do you have a question about this protocol or have a success story about using joint attention procedures? Please comment below!

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