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Joint engagement and attachment patterns in infants with visual impairments

  • Author(s): Urqueta Alfaro, Andrea
  • Advisor(s): Kihlstrom, John
  • Orel-Bixler, Deborah
  • et al.

This dissertation reports on two early childhood developments, joint engagement and attachment patterns, and explores a possible relationship between the two in a sample of 20 infants with various levels of visual impairments, without additional disabilities. Joint engagement and security and organization of attachment patterns have been associated with positive developmental outcomes, such as better language and socio-emotional skills, better performance in theory of mind tests, and reduced risk for psychopathology. There is a need for research on these topics in the population of children with visual impairments, and the relationship between joint engagement and attachment patterns has not been explored in this population.

Study 1 focuses on joint engagement, that is, infants’ coordination of their attention between a social partner and an external focus of shared interest. Infants and their caregivers were videotaped during 30-minute free play sessions at their homes. Videos were coded to establish the duration of joint engagement episodes, and the overall time dyads participated in it. Results showed that all infants tested participated in joint engagement and that the percentage of time it represented of the 30-minute free play session significantly increased between ages 12 and 18 months. The average duration of single episodes of joint engagement increased but only approached significance. The level of each infants’ visual impairment was described as reductions from norms in visual acuity and contrast sensitivity as measured using both visual evoked potential and preferential looking techniques. Of the visual measurements, infants’ reduction in contrast sensitivity measured with preferential looking technique predicted infants’ percentage of time in joint engagement across ages. This finding supports the importance of considering contrast sensitivity levels, rather than only those of visual acuity, in research with this population.

Study 2 focuses on attachment patterns. Infants and their caregivers underwent the Strange Situation Paradigm with added instructions to accommodate for the perceptual needs of infants with visual impairments. Results showed that all but 1 of the 27 SSPs collected were deemed classifiable. Most attachment patterns were secure, ranging between 56% in the younger group of infants tested, and 70% in the older group. Attachments coded as disorganized ranged between 22% and 6% in the younger and older groups respectively.

Study 3 explores the relationship between infants’ security of attachment and the percentage of time they participated in joint engagement with their caregivers during free play. Results did not find a significant effect. This is in line with the mixed results in the literature on the connections of attachment and joint engagement, which not only varies in the finding of significant effects within a given population, but also varies between the results in different populations.

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