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Let’s Talk About Social Communication!

By Ellie Warner - Speech Therapist

Social communication, also known as ‘pragmatics’, covers many specific skills. As a whole, it essentially refers to the way we communicate with different people, in different environments or situations. Read on as we take you through different social communication skills from childhood to adulthood.

As children, we gradually develop foundational social communication skills, like greeting others, waving, taking turns and sharing. As we develop, we learn how to recognize our own emotions and how to interpret others’ emotions through their body language, facial expressions and tone of voice.

Teaching and learning social communication skills can be a lot of fun! You can help your little one practice a range of skills through dramatic play with puppets or toys, scripting and making a ‘movie’ on your phone or iPad, or playing matching games that focus on emotions and facial expressions.

Throughout childhood and adolescence, we develop our understanding of others’ perspectives and how they differ from our own. We call this ‘theory of mind’.

As we grow older we also refine our conversational skills. For individuals with social communication difficulties, it can be helpful to break down the components of a conversation - this usually includes greeting the conversation partner and initiating a topic, active listening and thinking of appropriate questions/comments, as well as when and how to change the topic, and finally ‘wrapping up’ the conversation before saying goodbye.

As we approach adulthood, we also learn how to alter our tone of voice and the language we use with friends, teachers, colleagues and strangers. However, it is important to note that everyone has their own unique way of communicating, and individuals with autism in particular may communicate quite differently to those who do not have autism. It’s important that we respect those differences and remember that social communication goals should always focus on supporting an individual’s ability to thrive and grow in a way that is true to them and their needs.


Check out these fantastic children's activity ideas from Speech and Language Kids as well as the Hanen Centre:

This podcast episode from Speech & Language Kids is all about how to teach perspective taking:

And Banter Speech & Language has loads of theory of mind tips and resources:

Rachel Dorsey is a fantastic American speech pathologist who also has autism and ADHD. Follow her on Instagram for insights into social communication differences for individuals with autism:

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