Social Communication Development (Pragmatics)

August 25, 2019 No Comments

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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