A primitive speech act used to establish social interaction and direct a caregiver’s attention to an object, action, or entity. It is referred to as a protodeclarative because the directed attention to an object, action, or entity by the child acts as a comment in a communicative exchange. A protodeclarative may take several gestural forms including pointing to, showing, or giving of objects. The gesture may or may not be accompanied by a ritualized vocalization. The protodeclarative appears in typically developing children between 8 and 9 months of age. It is thought to demonstrate a shift in cognitive-linguistic development in that its use reflects the child’s conscious intent to initiate social interaction and establish joint attention to an object, action, or entity with a caregiver.
Children with autism engage less often in the intentional use of protodeclarative gestures such as pointing, showing, and giving, meant to establish or maintain social interaction and joint attention. There is evidence that the lack of intentional communication and bids for social interaction are related to a failure of various underlying mechanisms supporting development of preverbal communication.