Skip to main content Accessibility help

Joint attention, developmental level, and symptom presentation in autism

  • Peter Mundy (a1), Marian Sigman (a2) and Connie Kasari (a2)


Recent data suggest that a disturbance in the development of joint attention skills is a specific characteristic of young autistic children. This observation may have both theoretical and clinical significance. However, many pertinent issues remain to be addressed with regard to the parameters of joint attention disturbance in children with autism. This study attempted to address several of these issues. The study examines the effects of mental age and IQ on the joint attention skills of children with autism, mental retardation, and normal development. The study also examined the relation of joint attention behaviors to the parent's report of symptoms presented by children with autism. The results suggested that, differences in IQ and mental age may be related to differences in the type of joint attention skill deficits displayed by children with autism. The results also suggested that joint attention disturbance is associated with a circumscribed, but social cluster of symptoms observed among young autistic children by their parents. The implications of these findings for developmental models of autism are discussed.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Peter Mundy, Director of the Psychological Services Center, Department of Psychology, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33124


Hide All
American Psychiatric Association. (1987). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (3rd ed., rev.). Washington, DC: Author.
Bakeman, R., & Adamson, L. (1984). Coordinating attention to people and objects in mother-infant and peer infant interaction. Child Development, 55, 12781289.
Baron-Cohen, S. (1989a). Joint attention deficits in autism: Cognitive or affective. Development and Psychopathology, 1, 185189.
Baron-Cohen, S. (1989b). Perceptual role-taking and protodeclarative pointing in autism. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 7, 113127.
Baron-Cohen, S., Allen, J., & Gillberg, C. (1992). Can autism be detected at 18 months?: The needle, the haystack, and the CHAT. British Journal of Psychiatry, 161, 839843.
Bates, E. (1979). The emergence of symbols: Cognition and communication in infancy. New York: Academic Press.
Bruner, J., & Sherwood, V. (1983). Thought, language and interaction in infancy. In Call, J., Galeson, E., & Tyson, R. (Eds.), Frontiers of infant psychiatry (pp. 3855). New York: Basic Books.
Butterworth, G., & Jarrett, N. (1991). What minds have in common is space: Spatial mechanisms serving joint visual attention in infancy. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 9, 5572.
Capps, L., Kasari, C., Yirmiya, N., & Sigman, M. (in press). Parental perception of emotional expres-siveness in children with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Cattell, P. (1960). The intelligence of infants. New York: Psychological Corporation.
Curcio, F. (1978). Sensorimotor functioning and communication in mute autistic children. Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia, 8, 282292.
Golinkoff, R. (1983). The preverbal negotiation of failed messages: Insights in the transition period. In Golinkoff, R. (Ed.), The transition from prelinguis-tic to linguistic communication (pp. 5778). Hills-dale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Hannan, T. (1987). A cross sequential assessment of the occurrences of pointing in 3- to 12-month-old human infants. Infant Behavior and Development, 10, 1122.
Harris, S., Handleman, J., Gordon, R., Kristoff, B., & Fuentes, F. (1991). Changes in cognitive and language functioning of preschool children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 21, 281290.
Jones, S., Collins, K., & Hong, H. (1991). An audience effect on smile production in ten-month-old infants. Psychological Science, 2, 4549.
Kasari, C., Sigman, M., Mundy, P., & Yirmiya, N. (1990). Affect sharing in the context of joint attention interactions of normal, autistic and mentally retarded children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 20, 87100.
Krug, D., Arick, J., & Almond, P. (1979). Autism screening instrument for educational planning: Background and development. In Gilliam, J. (Ed.), Autism: Diagnosis, instruction, management and research. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Leslie, A. (1987). Pretense and representation: The origins of “theory of mind.” Psychological Review, 94, 412426.
Leslie, A., & Happe, E. (1989). Autism and ostensive communication: The relevance of metarepresentation. Development and Psychopathology, 1, 205212.
Lewy, A., & Dawson, A. (1992). Social stimulation and joint attention in young autistic children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 20, 555566.
Loveland, K., & Landry, S. (1986). Joint attention and language in autism and developmental language delay. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 16, 335349.
McCall, R., Eichorn, D., & Hogarty, P. (1977). Transitions in early mental development. Monographs for the Society for Research in Child Development, 42(3), 171.
McEvoy, R., Rogers, S., & Pennington, R. (1993). Executive function and social communication deficits in young autistic children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 34, 563578.
Meltzoff, A., & Gopnick, A. (1993). The role of imitation in understanding persons and the developing theory of mind. In Baron-Cohen, S., Tager-Flusberg, H., & Cohen, D. (Eds.), Understanding others minds: Perspective from autism (pp. 335366). New York: Oxford University Press.
Mitchell, F. (1979). Interobserver agreement, reliability and generalizability of data collected in observational studies. Psychological Bulletin, 86, 376390.
Mundy, P., & Hogan, A. (1994). Intersubjectivity, joint attention and autistic developmental pathology. In Cicchetti, D. & Toth, S. (Eds.), Rochester Symposium on Developmental Psychopathology: Vol. 5. The self and its disorder (pp. 130). Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.
Mundy, P., & Sigman, P. (1989a). Theoretical implications of joint attention deficits in autism. Development and Psychopathology, 1, 173184.
Mundy, P., & Sigman, S. (1989b). Second thoughts on the nature of autism. Development and Psychopathology, 1, 213218.
Mundy, P., Kasari, C., & Sigman, M. (1992). Joint attention, affective sharing, and intersubjectivity. Infant Behavior and Development, 15, 377381.
Mundy, P., Sigman, M., & Kasari, C. (1990). A longitudinal study of joint attention and language development in autistic children. Journal of A utism and Developmental Disorders, 20, 115128.
Mundy, P., Sigman, M., & Kasari, C. (1993). The autistic person's theory of mind and early nonverbal joint attention deficits. In Baron-Cohen, S., Tager-Flusberg, H., Cohen, D., & Volmar, F. (Eds.), Understanding other minds: Perspectives from autism (pp. 181201). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mundy, P., Sigman, M., Kasari, C., & Yirmiya, N. (1988). Nonverbal communication skills in Down syndrome children. Child Development, 59, 235249.
Mundy, P., Sigman, M., Ungerer, J., & Sherman, T. (1986). Defining the social deficits of autism: The contribution of nonverbal communication measures. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 27, 657669.
Phillips, W., Baron-Cohen, S., & Rutter, M. (1992). The role of eye contact in goal detection: Evidence from normal infants and children with autism or mental handicap. Development and Psychopathology, 3, 375384.
Reynell, J. (1977). Reynell developmental language scales. Windsor, UK: NFER Publishing.
Rogers, S., & Pennington, B. (1991). A theoretical approach to the deficits in infantile autism. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 137162.
Rutter, M., & Garmezy, N. (1983). Developmental Psychopathology. In Herington, E. M. (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology (Vol. 4, pp. 775911). New York: Wiley.
Schopler, E., Reichler, R., & Renner, B. (1986). The Childhood Autism Rating Scale. New York: Irvington.
Seibert, J. M., Hogan, A. E., & Mundy, P. C. (1982). Assessing interactional competencies: The Early Social-Communication Scales. Infant Mental Health Journal, 3, 244245.
Seibert, J. M., Hogan, A. E., & Mundy, P. C. (1984). Mental age and cognitive stage in young handicapped and at-risk children. Intelligence, 8, 1129.
Seibert, J. M., Hogan, A. E., & Mundy, P. C. (1986). On the specifically cognitive nature of early object-social skill domain associations. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 32, 2136.
Sheinkopf, S., & Siegle, B. (1994). Intensive behavior treatment of young autistic children. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Sigman, M., Kasari, C., Kwon, J., & Yirmiya, N. (1992). Responses to the negative emotions of others by autistic, mentally retarded and normal children. Child Development, 63, 796807.
Sigman, M., Mundy, P., Ungerer, J., & Sherman, T. (1986). Social interactions of autistic, mentally retarded, and normal children and their caregivers. Journal of Child Psychology and Child Psychiatry, 27, 647656.
Sugarman, S. (1984). The development of preverbal communication. In Schiefelbusch, R. & Pickar, J. (Eds.), The acquisition of communicative competence. Baltimore, MD: University Park Press.
Thorndike, R. (1972). Stanford Binet Intelligence Scale: Norms and tables. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Volkmar, F., & Cohen, D. (1988). Issues in the classification of infantile autism. In Lahey, B. & Kazdin, A. (Eds.), Advances in clinical child psychology (pp. 135). New York: Plenum Press.
Volkmar, F., Cohen, D., Bregman, J., Hooks, M., & Stevenson, J. (1989). An examination of social typologies in autism. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 28, 8286.
Wetherby, A., & Pruning, C. (1984). Profiles of communicative and cognitive-social abilities in autistic children. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 27, 367377.
Yirmiya, N., Sigman, M., Kasari, C., & Mundy, P., (1992). Empathy and cognition in high-functioning children with autism. Child Development, 63, 150160.

Joint attention, developmental level, and symptom presentation in autism

  • Peter Mundy (a1), Marian Sigman (a2) and Connie Kasari (a2)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed