Joint Attention and Eye Contact in Toddlers with Autism or Showing Signs with Dr. Francesca degli Espinosa

Welcome to a new episode of the Turn Autism Around®! I’m thrilled to have you join me as we dive into empowering strategies for parents of kids with autism or toddlers showing signs. Dr. Frascesca degli Espinosa joins me on the episode.  Our focus today? Joint attention and eye contact. Dr. Espinosa helps by equipping you with tools to create a safe and engaging environment that’s just right for your little one. In this episode, we’re exploring the ins and outs of eye contact, social interactions, and the concept of joint attention – these fundamental elements of human communication and social growth.


  • Dr. Francesca degli Espinosa fall into the autism world
  • What is Joint Attention?
  • How old do we start to see joint attention?
  • Joint attention milestones
  • importance of eye contact
  • Why children with autism or those showing signs may have poor eye contact
  • Role of social reinforcement
  • How to improve joint attention and eye contact
  • How to engage with children with autism or showing signs

What is Joint Attention?

Now, let’s start by understanding what joint attention really means. Joint attention is all about sharing attention with others, focusing on something interesting to both of you. Dr. Frascesca degli Espinosa describes it as a type of triangle where the child looks from the object, to the caregiver and back to the object.  From tracking where someone’s looking to pointing out cool objects and exploring them together, joint attention involves a wonderful way of connecting with the world around us. But, children with autism or those showing signs are often more focused on objects, and have less social motivation, so, Dr. Espinosa believes this may be why they are more likely to not engage in joint attention.

Joint Attention Milestones

During our journey, we’ll also take a close look at the important milestones tied to joint attention. You’ll learn about the stages your child goes through – from following someone’s gaze to engaging in shared exploration by pointing at objects. We may begin to see these milestones as young as 9 months old. A child with autism or those showing signs may miss these milestones as they are often not as reinforced or motivated by social interactions and are more interested in objects. 

Autism and Eye Contact

Now, let’s talk about eye contact – a key social behavior we often don’t give a second thought to, but is needed when talking about joint attention. We’ll explore the challenges that individuals with autism might face when it comes to making and keeping eye contact, and how this can impact their social interactions. I’m excited to share how positive reinforcement, like praise and encouragement, can work wonders in motivating your child to level up their joint attention and eye contact skills. Dr. Espinosa and I agree that we never want to force eye contact, but rather make things better with us than without us, in order to motivate great eye contact!

Unsure how you can improve joint attention and eye contact in a child with autism or those showing signs? Come join us as Dr. Francesca degli Espinosa shares her expertise and her top tips for improving these skills in a fun, family friendly way! If you’re a parent on a journey to turn autism around, this episode is a must-listen. Tune in now to Turn Autism Around, where we’re dedicated to empowering parents and professionals like you to create a brighter, more connected future for children with autism or those showing signs.

joint attention

Dr. Francesca degli Espinosa on Turn Autism Around Podcast

Dr. Francesca degli Espinosa is a certified behavior analyst (BCBA-D) and doctor of research in Psychology (Ph.D). She has been in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for twenty-four years, working both as a clinician and as an academic. Her main applied areas are educational curriculum design for children with autism and reduction of challenging behaviors.

For several years she has been teaching advanced verbal behavior in various masters courses in Italy (University of Salerno), United Kingdom (Queen’s University, Belfast) and United States (Penn State).