Nexus 024

Developing Pre - Verbal Communication Skills

Attention Everyone (Attention Autism) Programme at Nexus School

Joint attention skills play significant role in language development. Joint attention uses eye gaze and gestures towards an object or event and then verbal/non-verbal communication about it. Therefore, joint attention plays a critical role in social and language development. Joint attention comprises of two discrete skills:

  1. Responding to joint attention

  2. Initiating joint attention

Major deficits in joint attention, both initiating and responding are specific to children with autism. Charman (2003) found improved joint attention ability was positively associated with language gains. Whalen et al (2006) found an increase in joint attention skills have resulted in increases in social interactions and spontaneous speech

Nexus School, wanted to find a sustainable, evidence-based approach to enabling children with PMLD and ASD to develop their joint attention skills



The school’s SALT team attended training for Attention Autism, based upon the work of Gina Davies, an experienced speech and language therapy consultant. The approach focuses on developing attention, communication and independence skills,

The SALT team are currently trialling the approach in 3 classes: Poplar, Beech and Willow. The team have been into those classes and provided training and ongoing support to the class teacher and team.

The approach can best be described as giving participants an irresistible invitation to look and therefore to learn. It does this by designing activities that are highly visual, dynamic, fun and enticing. A range of stimulating activities is designed with the developmental level and behavioural characteristics of the children in mind. The environment is adapted to be contained and predictable and to avoid overloading the sensory processing abilities of the children. The model enables practitioners to observe and then practice the activities over an 10-12 week period. The expectation is that children actively engage in these sessions from the start with a view to generalising the approach in their day-to-day activities.

Members of the SALT team have been into the 3 classes to observe progress. Specifically looking for peaks in attention, which may range from momentary stilling and calming to active listening, turn taking and vocalisation and speech.



Each session has stages which build in length and ambition. Initially the group may come together for around 5-10 minutes but by week 12 extend to over 20 minutes during which staff seek positive interactions with the children so that they can build shared good memories.

Stage 1: Bucket time: a bucket with a lid is filled with irresistible, multi-sensory, highly visual toys. The facilitator takes out the toy and models active listening and attention. Children are encouraged to just look and share attention. If they leave the group they are gently but assertively bought back to the group.

Stage 2: Attention builder: this activity involves the facilitator carrying out an activity in a structured and systematic way which starts from the preparation.

Stage 3: Interactive game: this teaches children to focus, shift and re-focus attention. The facilitator chooses an adult to model an activity to reduce anxiety and demonstrate what will happen.

Stage 4: Table activity: the facilitator models an activity and then the children are given a tray containing the same resources, to carry to a table and do themselves. They are given minimal support with the aim of fostering independence.


Paula Wraight
English Subject Lead

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