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The Power of Pointing & Choice Making

Communication is important for building connections with others. Whether we’re telling others what we want, need, are interested in, or engaging in simple social routines, everyone needs a method to effectively convey their intent and connect with others. When we think of communication, we often jump to spoken language. However, there are so many ways to communicate, and promote communication, with individuals who are non-speaking or who have limited spoken language. This includes tapping into prelinguistic skills, or non-speaking skills we use to communicate such as reaching, pointing, waving, eye contact, and even facial expressions. Let’s talk about the power of pointing and choice making.


The Power of Pointing


Pointing is just one of many milestones in your child’s language development. It encompasses a combination of fine and gross motor skills and language skills, including hand-eye coordination. It’s an exciting tool for babies because they can finally “talk” to you with intention! There are two main purposes of pointing when it comes to language development: to indicate something they want (imperative pointing) and to bring attention to things of interest (declarative pointing). Both are a form of communicative intent that leads to an exchange between two people. Just think about a time that you lost your voice. How were you able to get your point across if you needed help getting something? Probably by pointing!

Imperative pointing


Imperative pointing, or pointing to indicate a want, is an easy way to request something. For example, a child may point to a toy they’re interested in playing with, then look towards an adult to say, “Can you get that for me?” Or, they may point to a food to say, “I want that!”


Pointing is often accompanied by other non-speaking communication, such as vocalizations of excitement or displeasure, or facial expressions, such as smiling or furrowing the eyebrows. This helps the listener understand if the child is saying, “I want that'' or “I don’t want that”.

Declarative pointing


Declarative pointing, or pointing to bring attention to things of interest, often leads to connection with their communicative partner. It allows the child to engage in joint attention by sharing their excitement or interest in a moment with you. For example, think about a young child pointing to an airplane passing overhead with wide eyes to say, “wow! Look at that!” Or, pointing to a dog in the neighbor’s yard and smiling to say, “I love the doggie!”


Pointing itself gives your child a way to communicate with you, and a way for you to bring attention to items in the environment too. But this skill also means that you can start to offer choices, which is another way to hone in on what your child is trying to communicate to you or to indicate a preference.


The Power of Choice Making


Offering choices is an important building block in early language development. It promotes speech in children and it’s probably teaching them more than you think! Choices provide a structured context for learning language. Labeling the items offered, while pointing to or looking at them, helps teach vocabulary, while offering two choices helps teach how to request for something.

Providing choices can help a child understand that (1) they have choices and (2) when they look, point to, or reach for an item, they can get something that they want. This will teach them how they can communicate and can positively reinforce communication attempts when they get an item that they chose.


Offering choices can also help children who have a tough time with those open-ended questions like, “What do you want to play with?” or “What do you want to eat?” Your child may show frustration because they don’t have the vocabulary to tell you what they want to play with or what they want to eat. Choices help make the question more simple and structured, so your child can express themselves easier. And, for our young children who don’t have spoken language, choices can help alleviate some frustration that often leads to nonpreferred behaviors.


Pointing and choice making are stepping stones to further communication. Research has shown a correlation between pointing and spoken language. Offering choices can do the same! If you have concerns about your child’s language development, we can help. We offer comprehensive evaluations to see where your child’s strengths and needs lie, and individualized speech therapy services to support your child. Contact us for more information or to schedule an appointment.

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