Children with autism have difficulties with joint attention. Previous theoretical accounts suggest that this problem is the consequence of a deficit in forming triadic representations. An alternative view is that the joint attention impairment is built on the foundation of difficulties in dyadic interaction.
In this study we observed dyadic orienting and joint attention in 20 children with autism and 20 children with developmental delay in a play setting. We measured responses to vocal, visual and tactile attention bids by a researcher (dyadic orienting) and initiations of pointing and showing (joint attention).
Children with autism elicited more adult attention bids, especially bids that combined tactile and visual modalities and responded to fewer bids than developmentally delayed children. Sensitivity in dyadic orienting was significantly related to use of triadic joint attention. We discuss implications of these findings for social orienting accounts of autism.