What are social language skills
Social (or pragmatic) language/communication skills involve how people communicate through language. These skills are comprised of three main types of skills; how we use language to communicate in various ways (e.g. greetings, making requests, looking for information), making changes to the use of language depending on the social setting (e.g. often we speak differently to people of different ages) and learning the social rules and etiquette of conversation (e.g. turn-taking, comprehending social cues, both verbal and non-verbal).
Why is it important to have adequate social communication skills?
Social communication skills have a strong cultural component, and it is vital for children to develop competent skills in this area to be able to generate relationships with others. This ability to form relationships and be able to appropriately engage with others is a valuable skill that is critical as child gets older and moves from school into the workforce.
When children do not establish pragmatic skills, they can often develop problems in other areas, such as behavioural difficulties, sensory modulation, planning and sequencing, memory, receptive and expressive language skills, fluency and articulation of speech, playing with other children and poor performance in academia.
Some common signs of social communication skills deficits
It is common for children with diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), developmental disorders or delays (including intellectual disabilities) or communication disorders to have difficulties with pragmatic skills.
While it is usual for children to have some communication issues in certain circumstances, if a child displays persistent difficulties or behaviours that seem inappropriate for their age, a bigger issue may be indicated. Below are some frequently seen signs and behaviours in children that may indicate they have problems in social language skills:
– Poor ability to stay on topic during conversation
– Disorganised speech when telling stories
– Poor awareness of personal space and appropriate behaviours in relation to this (e.g. standing too close to other people)
– Difficulty forming relationships and making friends
– Poor attention or eye contact to the speaker, or inappropriately staring at the other person
– Not listening in conversation and/or taking over the conversation
– Inability to comprehend other people’s tone of voice and meaning behind these changes (i.e. cannot recognise when someone is angry or happy)
– Limited use of language (e.g. does not ask questions or make greetings)
– Inability to discern other people’s viewpoints
How can speech therapy help improve social communication?
Speech therapy is a clinical intervention that aims to boost individuals’ speech, language and general communication skills. Speech therapists often work with the client in one-on-one scenarios, however, the involvement of parents or carers is also often critical. This is due to the fact that children usually follow the behaviours and actions of their parents, and they can best develop social communication skills in everyday settings. Likewise, the child’s teachers and other education staff can also help install goals for therapy and model appropriate social behaviours for the child. Real life situations where parents, family and other teachers can help grow the child’s skills include taking turns in conversation, social play and giving opportunities for the child to discuss their thoughts and feelings in daily events. Moreover, speech therapists often encourage families to facilitate opportunities for play dates and other social interactions.
Speech therapists may also provide children visual aids and supports to demonstrate correct behaviours and responses in various social settings. Other tasks and exercises commonly used in therapy include role playing (e.g. using puppets or other play activities), education about facial expressions, describing events, learning about social greetings, turn-taking and using social stories to portray the expected behaviours and responses in certain situations.