When we look at early development, we see joint attention emerge at around 6-8 months of age. Joint attention is a concept relating to typical development and is a critical skill for language learning. Joint attention is a shared focus of two individuals on an object or activity. It is achieved when one person alerts another to an object by means of eye-gazing, pointing, or other verbal or non-verbal indications. An infant or child’s ability to engage in joint attention is an important developmental milestone. Joint attention serves as a foundation for developing communicative competence and is one basis for the development of early social and cognitive skills (Amy M. Lieberman 2012).
While joint attention occurs very early in typically developing children, many of the children and students we work with may lack this critical communication skill. It is important for us to recognize a child’s shared interests in order to teach joint attention and thereafter be able to build upon this and teach other foundational language concepts such as how to communicate, reciprocal interaction, 2-way communication loops, functional communication, and SNUG (Spontaneous Novel Utterance Generation).
Today, I’m sharing a handout called the Core Word Chart, which is a brainstorming tool that can be used to determine determine shared interests and establish and teach joint attention to the children we work with. The Core Word Chart is a starting point for clinicians to quickly help determine what things are motivating and of interest to a child. Let’s take a look at what it looks like and how it can be implemented.
On the left hand box, we start by asking “What is the individual motivated by?” We are always driving student learning on the premise that social interaction and two-way reciprocal communication will develop through shared interests or use of a reinforcer. This question leads us into the 3 categories of Always Likes, Sometimes Likes, and Never Likes. While is it certainly helpful to know what types of toys or reinforcers a child always likes, it is equally important to brainstorm ideas for items a child may like some of the time. For many of our children with weak motivators, we can try to increase their areas of interest by offering items within the Sometimes category across their day. If a child is interested and engaged by that item on that particular day, then it is a good opportunity to teach and target language. Finally, it is important to recognize the items and activities that a child never likes. We can use items within this category to target a critical communication skill of protesting or indication cessation. For example, if child never likes grapes, we could engineer the environment at mealtime and offer grapes a choice, and then target a protest at the child’s language level to reject the grapes appropriately. Depending on the child’s language level, this we may be a 1 word utterance (i.e. no, don’t, all done) 2 word combination (i.e don’t want, no grapes) 3 word combination (i.e. don’t want grapes, don’t want that, I am all done, etc.) etc. Let’s take a look at a couple of completed Core Word Charts to get an idea of how we might use this tool:
The above Core Word Charts were completed for two children who are emergent communicators. You can see in the right hand column that “1 Word” was indicated in each box. As a team, we brainstormed single words that could be targeted using the CVES Core Vocabulary Foldout and Binder Inserts. Depending upon the child’s language level, we could write “1, 2, 3, 4, etc.” and brainstorm a variety words and phrases at the corresponding level. We always want to create a strong foundation at each language level before adding expectations for a longer utterance. In this way, we can use the Core Word Chart to target Spontaneous Novel Utterance Generation.
The Core Word Chart is designed to be a quick brainstorming tool for teams and therapists. In an upcoming post, we will share a comprehensive detailed reinforcer assessment which can also be used to determine items and activities to facilitate joint attention during therapy.