What is social communication?

Social communication (Pragmatics) refers to the way in which people use language to interact within social situations.

How do I know if my child is experiencing social communication difficulties?

If your child presents with any of the following, they may be experiencing social communication difficulties:

  • His/ her understanding of language is very literal (e.g. struggles with humour, sarcasm)
  • He/ she finds it difficult to make friends
  • He/ she finds it hard to play with others
  • He/ she finds it hard to cope with changes to his/ her routine
  • He/ she struggles to initiate interactions with others
  • He/ she struggles to maintain an interaction/ conversation

Why might my child have difficulty understanding spoken language?

Some children present with social communication difficulties due to:

What should my child be doing?

Birth – 9 Months:

Receptive Language Development (Baby)
  • Your child will start to use signals such as vocalisations, cries, smiles and eye-gaze; however they will not yet be using them with specific communicative intent
  • Your child will start to pay attention to different human voices & human faces
  • Your child will start to respond to interaction by looking, smiling & laughing
  • Your child will start to enjoy action games, such as “The Wheels on the Bus”, and he/ she will will begin to smile in recognition of familiar words
  • Early interactions between yourself & your child will involve turn-taking and temporarily linked behaviours. These interactions may begin when your child looks at your face & are ended when your child looks away. Interactions often include repetitive games (e.g. “peekaboo”), which also involve turn-taking

9 – 18 Months:

Receptive Language Development - Baby
  • Your child will start to express a range of communicative intentions:
    • Gestures combined with vocalisations/ words
    • Attention-seeking
    • Requesting objects, actions or information
    • Rejecting or protesting
    • Greeting others
    • Naming objects or actions
  • Your child will start to understand your gestures e.g. pointing
  • Your child will respond appropriately to simple instructions e.g. “get your coat”
  • Your child will initiate interactions non-verbally e.g. pointing, vocalising, requesting using gesture
  • Your child will respond to questions using gestures & vocalisations

18 Months to 3 Years:

  • Your child will use single words or multiword phrases to communicate e.g. comment on what they see, express their feelings, assert their independence
  • Your child will start to use language imaginatively in play
  • Your child will respond to questions asked using speech e.g. “yes” or “no” to yes/ no questions or specific location as a response to “what” questions
  • Your child will initiate interactions with you e.g. “Mummy”

3 – 4 Years:

Receptive Language Development - Child
  • Your child will use language to:
    • Talk about past & future events
    • Give information
    • Request
    • Retell simple stores
  • Your child will notice changes in the wording of familiar stories & rhymes
  • Your child can now initiate conversations with others e.g. using someone’s name, commenting or asking a question
  • Your child is better able to communicate with less familiar adults
  • Your child will be able to engage in imaginative conversation & change from one speech code to another when taking on different roles in play
  • Your child will start to react to things they overhear in other people’s conversations
  • Your child will quickly change from one topic to another
  • If your child is not understood, they will often repeat themselves unprompted

4 – 7 Years:

  • Your child will use language to:
    • Gain & hold an adult’s attention e.g. “Know what?”
    • Give Information
    • Seek information from other people
    • Give instructions to children their own age
    • Negotiate & bargain
    • Hypothesise
    • Express a range of feelings
    • State their beliefs & opinions
    • Taunt & threaten
  • Your child will learn to use language in a variety of ways to meet the needs of the listener e.g. manners
  • Your child will begin to tell jokes (punchline often misses the point). They also start to use non-literal language e.g. idioms, metaphors
  • Your child will start to use sarcasm & irony
  • Your child’s narratives now become longer & more complex e.g. can sequence events
  • Your child will ask for clarification when they have not understood a question asked/ information provided
  • Your child will follow instructions given by their friends & respond to their questions
  • Your child will become more efficient at starting & ending conversations. They will also be able to increase the number & length of conversational turns
  • Your child is better able to identify the appropriate time to join in other people’s conversations
  • Your child will often assume the knowledge of the listener

7 Years + :

  • Your child will get better at setting the scene to take account of the listener’s needs
  • When a conversation breaks down you child will be able to repair the error by addressing the source of the breakdown & elaborating appropriately
  • Your child will understand & use social rules relating to facial expression, gesture, posture, distance & eye contact


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