• Beyond Communication

Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder

In a hectic time inundated with social media, it can be hard to tell if a child or teen is having trouble forming true, reciprocal friendships. Many parents find that their children are very verbal and friendly, but still have trouble getting along with their peers, understanding conversations, or joining in school or community activities. Sometimes, parents wonder if their child simply likes to be alone or “do their own thing,” or if they truly don’t know how to form relationships, understand nuanced conversations, or respond to peers appropriately. Watching a child struggle to connect socially can be a really confusing and even heartbreaking experience. Sometimes, difficulties with thinking about and using language for social purposes suggest specific problems in social communication.

Did you know that it is possible to have specific difficulties with social thinking and social communication that are not the same as having a developmental disability like Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Social pragmatic communication disorder is a term for difficulties with social interaction, social thinking, and the social use of language, or pragmatics (ASHA, 2019).* Some children have difficulties with social communication even if they are very bright, friendly, or non-learning disabled. This can make the art of forming friendships a tricky or even impossible feat, and can even contribute to academic or vocational challenges.

Children or adolescents with social pragmatic communication disorder may have trouble...

  • Understanding and following social rules

  • Adjusting their tone of voice or speaking style to match the listener’s needs

  • Picking up on facial expressions or gestures

  • Interpreting figures of speech, such as, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

  • Entering or exiting conversations appropriately

  • Giving constructive feedback without being insulting

  • Knowing how and when to give appropriate compliments

  • Making inferences

Some children with social pragmatic communication problems can...

  • Ignore conversational turns

  • Misinterpret nuanced conversations or expressions

  • Take things very literally

  • Demonstrate knowledge of social rules, but fail to use them in everyday situations.

Social pragmatic communication problems can co-occur in children or teens who have a history of delayed language milestone acquisition, an avoidance of or difficulty with social interactions, behavioral problems, learning disorders, or intellectual disability.

In today's social-media-driven world, difficulties with social communication can be downright exhausting and emotionally draining to navigate. Have you noticed any of these characteristics in your child or teen? If you have questions or concerns about your child’s ability to use language in a socially appropriate way, or want to find out if their social communication difficulties are simply “being a teenager” or something else, talking to a certified speech and language pathologist can help. Reach out to the Beyond Communication office if you have questions.

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