Honors Theses

Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis


Communication Sciences and Disorders

First Advisor

Susan Loveall-Hague

Relational Format



Joint attention is the ability to share focus on an object with a conversational partner and the awareness that this attention is shared (Moore, Dunham, & Dunham, 2014). Joint attention is an important building block for learning, language, and social development (Mundy & Newell, 2007; Thurm, Lord, Lee, & Newschaffer, 2007). However, previous research has documented that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have significant deficits and delays in the acquisition of joint attention when compared to typically developing peers of similar chronological ages (Mundy, Sigman, & Kasari, 1994; Osterling & Dawson, 1994; Chiang, Soong, Lin, & Rogers, 2008). Other lines of research suggest that familiarity between individuals with ASD and another person can positively impact behaviors such as reward anticipation, eye tracking, and empathy (Hudry & Slaughter, 2009; Stavropoulos & Carver, 2014; Sterling et al., 2008). Therefore, the following research questions were posed: 1.) Does familiarity with a conversational partner impact total time spent in joint attention in children with ASD? 2.) Will interacting with a familiar conversational partner increase time spent initiating joint attention in children with ASD? To answer these questions, therapy videos were coded from six males between the ages of 3;6 and 5;5. Of these six males, all were enrolled in the HILL program at the University of Mississippi. Five of them had an official ASD diagnosis while one was strongly suspected of ASD. Videos of the child’s therapy sessions were recorded across three to four semesters. One video was recorded at the start of the semester when the child and graduate clinician were still unfamiliar with each other. A second video was recorded at the end of the semester when the child and clinician were familiar with each other. To measure joint attention, videos were coded using a modified Early Social Communication Scale scheme (Mundy et al., 2003). Results of the study support that familiarity positively impacts total time spent in joint attention in children with ASD, but it does support that children will initiate joint attention more in familiar conditions. This research implies the importance of the clinician-client relationship for improvements in joint attention, and it allows for future research on how joint attention can be improved with unfamiliar conversational partners.

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