Pediatric Speech Therapy Services

Social Communication Disorders

A social communication disorder (SCD) is an impairment in the ability to interact and communicate appropriately with others.

Children with this disorder may have difficulty in certain social skills, such as initiating or maintaining conversations with peers, understanding verbal and nonverbal communication, understanding jokes or non-literal language, discussing appropriate topics, and maintaining back-and-forth conversation. They may also have difficulty following rules of conversation, such as taking turns when speaking or responding appropriately to another speaker’s comments.

Children with a social communication disorder can also have difficulty expressing their thoughts or understanding the thoughts of others, as well as following social routines and adjusting their communication depending on the time and place, for example, knowing how to address adults versus other children, or knowing not to bring up certain topics at the dinner table when everyone is eating! As a result, those with social-pragmatic communication disorder often experience difficulty in social situations and miss important opportunities for developing interpersonal connections. This can affect their ability to make friends comfortably. It is important to note that while these types of disorders can cause challenges in daily life, they are treatable through speech therapy intervention.

Some difficulties in social contexts may include the following:

  • Holding a conversation
  • Developing social relationships
  • Understanding verbal and nonverbal language
  • Understanding ambiguous or figurative language
  • Taking appropriate turns in conversation
  • Talking about other’s interests, not just their own
  • Understanding sarcasm, jokes, or nonliteral language
  • Joining/Exiting a group in conversation appropriately
  • Understanding facial expressions or body language
  • Using appropriate topics in conversation
  • Identifying and being aware of the emotions of another
  • Taking perspectives to relate to others
  • Following social rules, spoken or unspoken

Social Communication encompasses the following:

Pragmatics is considered the main label for social communication skills. Pragmatics is the ability to communicate appropriately in social situations. A pragmatic language impairment includes the difficulty using and understanding language, physical cues, auditory cues, and visual cues to communicate information in a variety of social settings and environments with a variety of conversational partners.

How Do You Work on Improving a Social Communication Disorder?

Treating a social communication disorder requires a comprehensive speech-language pathology approach involving multiple components.

First, it is essential to determine the areas of difficulty for a client and work on building the person’s language and/or social communication skills. This may include identifying some areas that the child feels would be good to focus on, such as making friends, making jokes, practicing interviewing skills, or learning how to meet new people.

The most successful way for a child to improve social and nonverbal communication skills is to learn strategies for social interactions, describe the use of strategies and skills in a variety of contexts, practice these strategies in “pretend” scenarios with familiar partners and practice in “real-life” scenarios outside the therapy room. Additionally, a speech-language pathologist may also utilize therapeutic techniques such as role-play and visual supports to help the person learn and practice appropriate social skills.

Finally, it is also helpful for family members and teachers to understand how their loved one or student communicates, so they can provide them with the support and assistance they need to succeed. Family and friends are so important in this process for clients to learn how to communicate better and share how they communicate with their loved ones. Despite children having difficulties with social skills, it’s highly encouraged that family members and teachers learn how and where to meet a child in the middle!

My child just has some difficulty with these skills. Why would I do therapy to address them?

From school classrooms to interviewing for jobs, we are always interacting, communicating, and working with others. We have to learn how to work with a variety of personalities, perspectives, and outlooks! That can be difficult for children with social communication issues. Working on social language skills increases the likelihood of success in various environments and stages of life, such as school, college, jobs, friendships, and romantic relationships. Pragmatics therapy can build your child’s social communication skills and provide a “plan” for interacting with people in every environment we will participate in. Social skills are not always intuitive, and those with social communication difficulties may feel uncomfortable and nervous navigating these environments without support.

How is Social Communication Disorder Diagnosed?

Social communication evaluations focus on an extensive review of the person’s history, language abilities, and day-to-day functioning. Speech-language pathologists typically evaluate a wide range of skills alongside pragmatics, such as vocabulary, grammar, and language concepts that are common in conversation. This style of social communication intervention may include non-literal language, abstract concepts, and augmentative and alternative communication methods. In addition to assessing these linguistic abilities, they also assess their ability to complete social routines, engage in social interaction appropriately, and understand verbal and nonverbal signals. Speech therapists will also consider other relevant factors, such as client-specified goals, client desires for therapy, level of social understanding, autism spectrum disorder, mental disorders, and family history.

Clinicians Providing These Services:
Megan Crisler Megan Zecher