Preverbal communication and joint attention have long been of interest to researchers and practitioners. Both attending to social partners and sharing attentional focus between objects or events and others precede the onset of a child's first lexicon. In addition, these prelinguistic acts also appear to have important implications with regard to learning to socialize. The construct of joint attention has been noted as an early developing area prior to the transition to symbolic communication. Thus, the importance of joint attention in typically developing children, and the lack thereof in children with autism, has interested researchers for use in diagnosis and intervention for autism. That is, joint attention has been gaining momentum as an area that not only helps characterize children with autism, but also as a prognostic indicator and a potential intervention goal. In this paper, the status of the literature about initiation of joint attention by young typically developing children and young children with autism was examined. Empirical studies regarding joint attention behaviors, including eye gaze alternation, the use of protodeclaratives and protoimperatives, and studies that investigated joint attention as a predictor of language acquisition were reviewed. Possible areas for future research for children with autism are discussed. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc. MRDD Research Reviews 2004;10:169–175.