Why Does Joint Attention Look Atypical in Autism?
This essay answers the question of why autistic children are less likely to initiate joint attention (e.g., use their index finger to point to indicate interest in something) and why they are less likely to respond to bids for their joint attention (e.g., turn their heads to look at something to which another person points). It reviews empirical evidence that autistic toddlers, children, adolescents, and adults can attend covertly, even to social stimuli, such as the direction in which another person’s eyes are gazing. It also reviews empirical evidence that autistics of various ages understand the intentionality of other persons’ actions. The essay suggests that autistics’ atypical resistance to distraction, atypical skill at parallel perception, and atypical execution of volitional actions underlie their atypical manifestations of joint attention.