, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 87-100

Affective sharing in the context of joint attention interactions of normal, autistic, and mentally retarded children

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Disturbances in the development of joint attention behaviors and the ability to share affect with others are two important components of the social deficits of young autistic children. We examined the association of shared positive affect during two different communicative contexts, joint attention and requesting. The pattern for the normal children was one of frequent positive affect displayed toward the adult during joint attention situations. Compared to the normal children, the autistic children failed to display high levels of positive affect during joint attention whereas the mentally retarded children displayed high levels of positive affect during requesting as well as joint attention situations. These results lend support to the hypothesis that the joint attention deficits in autistic children also are associated with a disturbance in affective sharing.

This research was supported by NIMH grant MH 33815, NICHD grant HD17662, and NINCDS grant NS 25243. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Angie Peña and Larry Epstein for their careful coding of child behaviors, Dolores Adams and Scott Komo for data analyses, and Jung Hye Kwon for analyses of reliability data. We also appreciate the helpful comments of Sondra Purdue on an earlier draft of this paper.