Let’s Talk Social Communication

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Sally Byrne

Let’s Talk Social Communication

What is Social Communication?

Also known as pragmatic language or friendship skills, social communication is the way we use our language with others. It can include the words we use and our behaviours in social settings. Often these skills are learnt naturally as we grow.

Social communication can be broken into three types of skills:

Using Language

Using language to give different messages is important when communicating! It can include saying hello or goodbye, asking a question, making a comment, or requesting for something we want.

Changing Our Language to Suit Different Situations or People

This skill is important, particularly as a child starts school. This includes using a different tone of voice, providing more/less information based on what the other person knows, or talking differently at home compared to school or work.

Following Social Rules

These rules are often not stated explicitly during conversation, but if you break these rules your conversation partner will notice and may become uncomfortable. This includes turn taking (sharing the conversation evenly), providing context, staying on topic, rewording something when others don’t understand what you’ve said, using communicative behaviours appropriately (e.g., shrugging, pointing), using and understanding facial expressions/eye contact.

(Social Communication, 2021)

teenagers doing group work at school

What are the appropriate ages for social communication skills?

8-12 months
– Babies use gestures and vocalisations to request, refuse, comment, and play with their sounds.
12-18 months
– Able to use some words to request, refuse, and comment.
18-24 months
– Children can now request information, answer questions, and acknowledge what others have said.
24-30 months
– Children can start to continue a conversation topic (mostly through repetition),
– Use ‘please’ to be polite.
– Can play symbolically (i.e., a box can symbolise a car),
– Talk about objects that aren’t in the same room as them,
-Can use communication to lie and tease.
– Stories are starting to develop and are mainly a ‘heaped’ story where all the information is said in no particular order.
30-36 months
– Children can add information to a conversation to continue the same topic.
– Children can sometimes ask for clarification (e.g., what? Huh?).
– Language is used in play and stories can have a sequence to them.
36-42 months
– Children can start to use requests that ask permission (e.g., “Can you…?) and indirectly ask questions (e.g., would you…?).
-Stories start to have a theme and have some organisation about when events occurred.
42-48 months
– Children can now report on things that have already happened, can provide reasons, can guess what might happen, express empathy for others, have very imaginative play, and are able to continue conversations easily.
48-60 months
– Able to subtly request (e.g., “Yum those cookies smell so good” when wanting a cookie).
– Children can now change their language to suit the understanding of the other person.
– Stories have some plot now.
5-7 years
– Stories now have a central focus, high point, and a resolution.
7-9 years
– Stories can include internal goals, motivations, feelings of characters, multiple problems, and solutions.
– Persuasion is used more successfully with more understanding of others’ perspectives.
– Children can now define words or give background information to help listeners who don’t understand.
9-12 years
– Jokes and riddles with confusing words are now easier to understand.
– Stories are now complex.
12-14 years
– Jokes and riddle based on how sentences are structured are understood better.
– Expository (explanatory) texts are more commonly understood.
15-18 years
– Language used to maintain social relationships (i.e., ‘just talking’).
– Children have well established persuasive and argumentative skills.
(Paul and Norbury, 2012)

Who has problems in their social communication?

Anyone can have difficulties with their social communication skills. Some people have more difficulty than others. People who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder often have a variety of difficulties related to their social communication skills. One individual with this disorder can look vastly different to another. For more information about the ‘red flags’ in young children for autism spectrum disorder, read our blog post: https://aspirespeechpathology.com.au/identifying-autism-spectrum-disorder

Other diagnoses that are associated with social communication difficulties include ADHD, hearing loss, Williams Syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, visual impairment, traumatic brain injury, foetal alcohol syndrome, Landau Kleffner syndrome.

two children pulling hands while playing with toys

Social communication problems may look like:

– Saying the wrong thing in the wrong situation. Laughing at inappropriate times,
– Telling stories that are confusing to follow,
– Not able to balance a conversation (talking too much or not enough),
– Finding it difficult to start, continue, or end a conversation,
– Difficulty answering questions,
– Not having friends or finding it difficult to make friends,
– Saying something rude but not understanding why its rude,
– Sticking to the same topic and finding it difficult to switch topics.

Speech Pathologists Role

Speech pathologists can assess and treat social communication difficulties. We are trained in and use a range of evidence based programs targeting social skills for all ages. Therapy can involve:

– direct teaching of the ‘social rules’,
– coaching individuals through various social situations,
– role playing appropriate use of language, and
– educating the individual’s family, teachers, and other communication partners on how they can help with the development of these skills.

If you are concerned about social communication skill development (whether it is yourself, your child, or a loved one’s skills), contact a speech pathologist to discuss options for therapy.

Happy Talking,


References: Asha.org. 2021. Social Communication. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 July 2021]. Paul, R. and Norbury, C., 2012. Language disorders from infancy through adolescence. 4th ed. St. Luis, Mo: Elsevier.