Why is my Speech and Language Therapist working on my child’s attention and listening skills?

You’ve had some concerns for a while now that your child is not talking. Maybe your friend whose child is a similar age to your own, give or take a few months, is saying more than your child is. Or, maybe out of your own experience of having other children, you know that your first, second or even third child progressed through stages of communication development almost effortlessly.

So, you begin to access some Speech and Language Therapy sessions in the hope that your child will develop their talking skills. But, your Speech Therapist has other plans; to not work on your child’s talking skills at all.

“Why?” you may question. Well, just like children learn to crawl before they walk, children need to acquire a range of pre-verbal skills before they learn to talk. One of the most important pre-verbal skills is joint attention.

Joint Attention

Joint attention is a key skill in language development. Joint attention refers to two people sharing a focus of attention together. Examples of joint attention episodes include:

  • Your child looking at you, pointing to show you something, then looking back at you to check your reaction (i.e. your child is initiating to a joint attention bid).
  • Your child turning to look at something when you say, “look!” or when you try and direct their attention towards something (i.e. your child is responding to a joint attention bid).

Why is joint attention so important for language learning?

Children learn words by making the link between what they see and what they hear. Imagine if somebody tried to teach you a word in a word in a new language and you weren’t looking at that person or the object they were talking about (i.e. you weren’t sharing a focus of attention). You would be able to hear the word(s), but you wouldn’t know what that word referred to.

Top Tips to Develop Joint Attention

Be motivating!

Children with difficulties with their attention and listening skills are more likely to look and listen when something really interests them. Engage in activities that are motivating to your child, such as bubbles, blowing balloons or wind-up toys to attract and hold their attention.

Play ‘ready, steady, go’ games.

Playing games with a climax allows the child to look, wait and listen for ‘go’. Try stacking building blocks and then saying, ‘ready…steady…go!’ before you knock the blocks down. Try and extend ‘ready, steady, go’ so that you’re challenging your child to wait that little bit longer than usual.

Copy what your child does.

Copying a child’s actions and/or can help to increase their awareness of you. Imitation is an important skill for communication. If a child sees you imitating them, it helps them learn cause and effect and that their actions have an impact on you. This is the basis of communication and another important skill for language learning.

Play ‘People Games’.

People games are games that require the best toy; you and you only! Be face to face with your child and play games such as peek-a-boo, tickling and singing. This helps to increase your child’s awareness of you, and ability to look and listen to you.

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