Pointing is a child’s first sentence

Joint attention

Joint Attention is the process of sharing one’s experience of observing an object or event, by following someone else’s gaze or pointing gestures. It is the mental progression from a two-some to a three-some, from 2-tracked to 3-tracked thinking. During the first 8 months a baby interacts with one ‘other’, i.e. he can either interact with another person OR with a toy, but not with both. This is called ‘shared attention’.

Around 9 months something very exciting and fundamental happens: the baby becomes able to combine interacting with another person ABOUT an object, i.e. to play together with another person with a toy. The baby can now imagine that mum too has ideas in her mind just like he does, and he is aware that they are different, so he has to show her what his ideas are about a toy., because otherwise she won’t know. This is called ‘joint attention’, and absolutely crucial for social development, language acquisition, cognitive development, mental health and much more.

‘Pointing is a child’s first sentence’

Pointing to show somebody something is not just stretching out a finger. This kind of pointing is much more complex, – requiring the same underlying structures as a grammatically correct sentence. Stretching out a finger only becomes ‘pointing’ when there are 2 people and one wants to show the other something important, which is called ‘joint attention’. Joint attention pointing is an intentional act to share meaning and so complex that animals can’t do it: only humans can draw the attention of another person to what they are seeing in order to share the meaning this has for them. Human children start pointing around the age of 12 months. But many children with autism have problems with pointing because it requires a shared understanding of the world and what things means to other people as well as the communicative intent of wanting so share ideas with others.


A warm welcome from Sibylle Janert.

I look forward to discussing your concerns.

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