Hahn 2014

Joint Engagement as a Predictor of Language Ability in Young Children with FXS

Laura J. Hahn, Nancy C. Brady, Steven F. Warren, & Kandace Fleming

University of Kansas, Contact: laura.j.hahn@ku.edu; 1000 Sunnyside Ave., Room 1052, Lawrence, KS 66045; Supported by NICHD T32 HD057844, P30 HD0253 and NICHD P30 HD003100

Introduction: Joint attention skills – sharing attention between an infant and social partner around an object of interest – create a foundation for the acquisition for more advanced social skills that allow children to learn, think, reason, and interact with the social world (Trevarthen & Aitken, 2001). Little research in fragile X syndrome (FXS) has examined early social communication and social cognitive skills. However, research and theory on the development of joint attention and the behavioral characteristics associated with FXS suggests that children with FXS may experience impairments in the appropriate development of joint attention (Murphy & Abbeduto, 2005). This study examines the predictive nature of supported and coordinated joint engagement on concurrent and later expressive and receptive language in 47 young children with FXS.

Method: Children’s joint engagement was coded based on the work of Adamson and Bakeman (2004) during a 5-minute free play with their mothers between 24 and 36 months. We focused this analysis on supported and coordinated joint engagement because these two forms of engagement both involve the child and the parent interacting together around a shared object. Children’s expressive and receptive language abilities were measured using the Mullen Scales of Early Learning (Mullen, 1995) and the influence of children’s level of autism symptomology was examined using the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (Schopler et al., 1988).

Results and Discussion: Between the ages of 24 and 36 months, children with FXS spent significantly more time interacting with their mothers in supported joint engagement than coordinated joint engagement, which suggests a potential delay in skills related to joint attention in children with FXS. Examination of concurrent language abilities indicates that when controlling for nonverbal cognitive abilities, both supported and coordinated joint engagement significantly predict expressive language abilities. However, neither supported nor coordinated joint engagement significantly predicated concurrent receptive language ability. Interestingly, supported and coordinated joint engagements were not significant predictors of expressive or receptive language between the ages of 5 and 6 years. This differs from typically developing children, perhaps due to differences in assessment ages or observational contexts. Alternatively, the relationship between early joint attention skills and later language abilities in children with FXS may follow a qualitatively different trajectory than what has been observed in other populations. Adding children’s level of autism symptomology did not yield a statistically significant model, but the zero-order correlations suggests that children with FXS who spent less time in supported or coordinated joint attention had higher levels of autism symptomology. Understanding the developmental course of joint attention skills can help to identify potential targets for early intervention in FXS.
Key References:
Murphy, M., & Abbeduto, L. (2005). Indirect genetic effects and the early language development of children with genetic mental retardation syndromes: The role of joint attention. Infants & Young Children, 18(1), 47–59.

Adamson, L. B., Bakeman, R., & Deckner, D. F. (2004). The development of symbol-infused joint engagement. Child Development, 75(4), 1171–1187.