Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Speech, Language & Hearing Sciences

First Advisor

Brenda Schick

Second Advisor

Christine Yoshinaga-Itano

Third Advisor

Lynn Snyder

Fourth Advisor

Lise Menn

Fifth Advisor

Barbara Fox


Research on joint attention and language learning has focused primarily on cues requiring visual access. However, this narrow focus cannot account for the emergence of language among some congenitally blind children who develop language on the same developmental timescale as their sighted peers. Findings from this longitudinal, retrospective study of parental input to two blind children, two partially sighted children and two sighted children, who all had successful language outcomes, suggest that there is a process of socializing joint attentional engagement that can exploit some early predispositions toward social interaction that are available regardless of visual limitations. Parents in this study employed specific attention-eliciting cues and attention-directing cues that included various types of verbalizations, gestures, actions, and physical directions to establish and maintain joint attentional interactions that scaffold the acquisition of language. Through the use of these multimodal culturally prescribed ways of summoning attention and directing it to shared locations, parents made manifest their communicative intent and entrained in their children the understanding that paying attention is important. The parents also very consistently talked about what they or their children were doing, thus clarifying referents within their on-going activity. While all of the attentional cues identified in this study were in the repertoires of all parents, parents generally employed the types of cues that afforded the most effective and efficient access for their child's degree of vision. In addition, parents provided attentional cueing in a manner that reflected their child's increasingly fluid participation in joint attentional engagments. Specifically, parental cueing decreased as children's understanding of attentional management increased, and as they developed sufficient language skills to use the content of speech alone to guide their attentional focus. Using an observational, descriptive approach, findings from this study are framed in terms of parameters of possibility rather than generalizations with the goal of highlighting input factors that could have contributed to the successful language outcomes of children who had varying degrees of vision. This study expands the boundaries of traditional accounts of joint attentional engagement by examining a wider range of attentional cueing options and potential routes to language learning and knowledge transfer.