In speech therapy, children may work on social language or communication which is foundational to successful social interactions.
Social communication or “pragmatics” are how we use language to effectively communicate with others in order to connect with them. We use these skills in many ways, a few of which are to make requests for our needs, share information with others, exchange information with others and share our intent in order to play and interact cooperatively.
Social language skills are dynamic and require us to shift how we use language depending on our conversational partner or setting. We may shift our language use to accommodate a young child, a partner with different topic knowledge, or adjust how we use it in different settings such as indoors or outdoors and professional versus social settings. We also filter our language by editing out extraneous information or information that may be inappropriate depending on our conversational partner or the setting. Most of us do this naturally, because we understand that social language has rules.
In addition to all of the verbal linguistic social rules, non-verbal language is taking place simultaneously when we are communicating. We adapt our language in response to the facial and body cues of those around us and adeptly shift our communication to match what we are observing.
For children who struggle with these skills, the consequences are devastating. If you can’t follow the rules or understand intent, how can you play with others? How can you have a conversation? Children with social learning challenges are often avoided or ignored by peers or, at the worst, teased and bullied. Social isolation and negative self-esteem are direct consequences of the struggle children with social challenges face.
“Studies suggest that our experiences shape our neural architecture—and that our social relationships are one of the most important forms of experience that literally form who we are. And the very essence of a relationship is communication. Communication is what connects one person to another, or one person to many.”
Dan Siegel, PhD, M.D.
We are fortunate that these skills, like other communication skills, can be directly taught. While many of the language rules and skills may seem hidden to children with social communication disorders, we now have tools and curriculums to teach and demonstrate these skills explicitly.