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How to look for joint attention: Using a novel, multimodal coding protocol to identify joint attention in diverse parent-child dyads

  • Author(s): Gabouer, Allison Paige
  • Advisor(s): Bortfeld, Heather
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-ND' version 4.0 license

Parent-child interactions support the development of a wide range of socio-cognitive abilities in young children. As infants become increasingly mobile, the nature of these interactions change from person-oriented to object-oriented, with the latter relying on children's emerging ability to engage in joint attention. Joint attention is acknowledged to be a foundational ability in early child development, broadly speaking, yet its operationalization has varied substantially over the course of several decades of developmental research devoted to its characterization. Here, I outline two broad research perspectives—social and associative accounts—on what constitutes joint attention. After providing a theoretical overview, Chapter 2 introduces a joint attention coding scheme that we have developed iteratively based on a careful reading of the literature and our own coding experiences. This coding protocol provides objective guidelines for characterizing multimodal parent-child interactions. The need for such guidelines is acute given the widespread use of joint attention and other developmental measures to assess typically and atypically developing populations. In Chapter 3, we implement this novel protocol to understand how hearing parents are attempting to direct the attention of their deaf children, compared to those of hearing children. Contradictory to our predictions, both groups of parents relied on various multimodal cues to initiate joint attention with their child, regardless of the child’s hearing status. We even found that hearing parents of deaf children incorporate auditory cues into their bids for joint attention, although parents of deaf children used shorter utterances in their initiation attempts compared to parents of hearing children. In combination, these results point to a seemingly consistent way parents initiate joint attention with their children, at least as these skills are developing and becoming more routine. Chapter 3 aims to extend these findings to dyads in which the children are older and have a more solidified grasp on engaging in joint attention. We documented several relationships between parent- and child-initiated joint attention strategies and their effectiveness, and found that parents and children rely on different senses to initiate joint attention successfully. Altogether, these studies emphasize the diversity in joint-attentional engagement across child hearing status and age, as well as the importance of tracking all types of sensory cues.

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