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Key points

  • Many children with language impairments and/or autism will have difficulties with aspects of social communication and pragmatic language
  • Aspects of conversational discourse may be difficult to assess in a standardised way. SLTs may therefore rely more heavily on parent/teacher report of communication in everyday contexts and observation of pragmatics in naturalistic contexts.
  • Children with social communication disorder are at higher risk of social, emotional and behavioural difficulties

What is social communication disorder?

Children with social communication disorder have prominent difficulties with using language for social purposes, or pragmatics, for example in conversation, story-telling, and using figurative language, i.e. jokes and metaphors.

The speech and language therapist is uniquely qualified to assess these skills using caregiver reports, observation of conversational skills and standardised language assessments. Intervention may focus on understanding rules of conversation and using context to understand ambiguous language.

Children with social communication disorder will not meet criteria for autism spectrum disorder; they will not show evidence of restricted interests and repetitive behaviours.Social communication disorder has overlapping features with previous clinical terms such as ‘pragmatic language impairment’ and ‘semantic-pragmatic language disorder’.

Role of speech and language therapy for social communication disorder

SLTs have an essential role to play in the diagnosis, assessment and management of social communication disorder

Wandsworth Speech & Language Therapy (Heyday UK)

Key organisations

  • Afasic seeks to raise awareness and to create better services and provision for children and young people with speech and language impairments. It has specific divisions for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales
  • The Communication Trust – coalition of over 50 not-for-profit organisations that work together to support everyone who works with children and young people in England to support their speech, language and communication
  • National Autistic Society (NAS)
  • I CAN - children’s communication charity.