Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Social communication

What is Social communication?
Social communication refers to the emergence of verbal and nonverbal skills, social interaction, and social cognition. It is often viewed as a form of communication that is ‘unwritten’ and that people seem to ‘just know.’ Communication in this area includes interaction with peers, family members, providers, and educators. Social communication behaviors include understanding and using appropriate facial expressions, eye contact, and body language.

Children who exhibit difficulties with social communication skills may:

  • Have difficulty sharing attention and orienting to others
  • Have poor turn-taking in play and conversation
  • Respond inappropriately to questions
  • Have difficulty maintaining topic of conversation
  • Have difficulty comprehending nonverbal cues including facial expressions and/or body language
  • Have difficulty attending to speaker with appropriate eye contact
  • Uses ‘false starts’ or interrupt others
  • Revises speech or repeats the same thoughts
  • Difficulty responding to proximity (child may get too close to someone)
  • Difficulty connecting emotional states of self to others

When is a social communication evaluation recommended?
Individuals suspected of having a social communication disorder via a provider or family should be referred to a speech-language pathologist. It is important to know that a social communication disorder may be a distinct diagnosis, but it may also occur as a component other conditions including expressive/receptive language disorder, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and various psychological and emotional disorders.

What do expect during a social communication evaluation:
This type of evaluation will often be done in conjunction with an assessment of expressive and receptive language skills. A speech-language pathologist may assess:

  • Initiation of communication and turn-taking
  • Eye contact
  • Willingness to maintain conversation
  • Ability to manipulate conversational topics
  • Comprehension of nonverbal and verbal cues in various situations
  • Ability to verbally and nonverbally communicate including speech, signs, gestures, pictures, written words

What to expect in therapy to address social communication
Based on results of evaluation, specific goals to address aspects of social communication maybe added to your child’s plan of care. Therapy activities may include improving a child’s ability to identify appropriate topics for a given listener and the conversation, improving eye contact and body language, and improving turn-taking through games and scenarios depending on the age of the child.

Find additional information on social communication development and other diagnoses associated:

American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA)
Autism Society of America