Social Communication Disorders


Social communication skills are a person’s ability to incorporate all the domains of language (articulation/phonological, grammar/morphology, syntax, semantics) and use them all within everyday communication to create and interpret verbal and nonverbal interactions. 

Social communication disorder has been recently defined as a new diagnosis. Children with this communication disorder generally have good verbal language skills and general cognitive abilities. However, in contrast, they have difficulty using language in social situations and demonstrate the following communication behaviors:

  • Little interest in social interactions
  • Going off-topic or “hogging” the conversations
  • Not adapting language to different listeners (talks the same way to an adult as to a friend)
  • Not adapting language to different situations (speaks the same way in the classroom as on the playground)
  • Difficulty making inferences and understanding things that are implied, but not stated explicitly
  • Not giving background information when speaking to an unfamiliar person
  • Not understanding how to properly greet people, request information, or gain attention
  • A tendency to be overly literal and not understand riddles and sarcasm
  • Trouble understanding nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions


According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), the causes of social communication disorders are still not known. Instead, it is often defined and described as a diagnosis that co-occurs with the following conditions:

  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Learning disabilities
  • Spoken language disorders
  • Written language disorders 
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD)
  • Traumatic brain injuries (pediatric and adult)
  • Aphasia
  • Dementia
  • Right-hemisphere damage
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – SCD tends to be a distinct feature of ASD


A consultation with a pediatrician and psychologist would be beneficial to diagnose and rule out other underlying medical and/or psychological conditions that may be preventing your child from socially interacting and using language with peers and adults.

A comprehensive speech and language evaluation will play an integral role in diagnosing a social communication disorder. A qualified speech-language pathologist will evaluate all domains of language which will include informal and formal assessments that specifically evaluate social communication skills, such as:

  • Making inferences: evaluating someone’s thoughts and emotions based on their facial expressions 
  • Interpreting social language: using and understanding sarcasm
  • Problem-solving: negotiating/compromising with peers and adults
  • Interpreting ironic statements: understanding common idioms (e.g., “That was a piece of cake”)

Through direct observation and parent interview, a speech-language pathologist will also observe how your child:

  • Responds to others
  • Uses gestures and facial expressions when communicating
  • Takes turns when talking or playing
  • Talks about emotions and feelings
  • Stays on topic 
  • Adjusts speech to fit different people or situations – for instance, talking differently to a young child versus an adult or lowering one’s voice in a library
  • Asks relevant questions or responding with related ideas during conversation
  • Uses words for a variety of purposes such as greeting people, making comments, asking questions, making promises, etc.
  • Is able to make and keep friends


The role of the speech-language pathologist in treating social communication disorders will entail a variety of methods and treatment strategies that are geared towards focusing on increasing active engagement and building independence in natural communication environments. One-on-one, clinician-directed interventions are useful for teaching new skills and practicing these skills in functional communication settings and to promote generalization.


Some techniques that can be used include:

  • Using videos, social scripts, and role-play to practice desired social behaviors
  • Using social stories to explain social situations to help children learn socially appropriate behaviors and responses
  • Video strategies: using video recordings to demonstrate a model of a specific behavior or skill. Video recordings showing these target behaviors are observed and then imitated by the individual. The learner’s self-modeling can be videotaped for later review.

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