Teachers’ experiences of developing joint attention skills in children with autism using iPads

C. Mangafa, Louise Moody, Andree Woodcock, Alex Woolner

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Mobile devices such as tablets are increasingly used in primary schools with reported benefits in communication, independent learning and creativity. Children with autism spectrum disorder have an affinity with tablets, which is recognised by the autism research community with many studies gradually emerging in this field. This qualitative study aims to explore primary school teachers’ experiences of developing joint attention skills in children with autism using strategies and iPads. Joint attention (JA) can be defined as the act of sharing, sustaining and shifting attention between two social partners and an object, activity or another person. It is an essential life skill which can indicate the later development of social communication, language acquisition and behaviour. It is usually absent or impaired in children with autism, which means that they often find it difficult to share attention with an adult or peer about a toy by following gaze, pointing and alternating gaze, but also showing interest to the other person. Joint attention difficulties can also be a prognostic indicator of autism. Research on the use of tablets to develop skills in autism is limited. In order to understand current practice, semi structured interviews with 16 school staff members and non-obtrusive observations of 12 pupils interacting with the teacher using iPads were held in three UK schools (one mainstream and two special needs). All teachers used teaching strategies to promote joint attention on a daily basis, a few used targeted interventions for joint attention and even less used iPads in general in their classroom. Participants expressed different opinions about the effectiveness of teaching strategies and iPad use in developing joint attention skills since it relied on their ability to implement them appropriately and their knowledge of each child. The observations showed that teachers used a variety of evidence-based strategies to engage their pupils with autism in joint attention opportunities but that there was little use of iPads. The iPad was mainly used as a reward, a motivator to direct and sustain pupils’ attention, to practice turn-taking and waiting skills and to teach the curriculum. The research points to the need to provide schools with guidance on how to use tablets to teach joint attention skills and that teachers would welcome opportunities to share knowledge with colleagues and parents so that they can work together.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Event7th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies - Barcelona, Spain
Duration: 6 Jul 20158 Jul 2015


Conference7th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies

Bibliographical note

Please cite this paper as: C. Mangafa, L. Moody, A. Woodcock, A. Woolner (2015) TEACHERS’ EXPERIENCES OF DEVELOPING JOINT ATTENTION SKILLS IN CHILDREN WITH AUTISM USING IPADS, EDULEARN15 Proceedings, pp. 6170-6179.


  • tablets/ipads
  • autism spectrum disorder
  • joint attention skills


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