Uncategorized

Social Communication Definition

What is the definition of Social Communication? Social communication is how we use language when communicating with others. It goes beyond thinking of something to say, and physically saying it. Social communication is how we change the way we communicate based on the people around us. Still sounds confusing doesn’t it? Let’s break it down a little bit further.

Social Communication Disorder Definition
Use this graph to help you visualize the different areas of social communication.
If you are interested in learning more about social communication, or if video is more your thing, be sure to check out this video. I go into a lot of detail explaining what social communication by giving you a definition AND examples!

According to ASHA, Social Communication is made up of 4 main subcategories: Social Interactions, Social Cognition, Pragmatics, and Language Processing. Each of these four categories are broken down into smaller categories. I know this is a lot, but we will work through each of these categories as we talk about the definition of social communication!

Section 1: Language Processing

The different areas of social communication

Language processing is made of expressive language and a receptive language.

Expressive language is the language we produce. It includes things like using vocabulary words, combining words, and making grammatical utterances.  We use expressive language skills when we are speaking and writing. Although there are other forms of expressive communication.

Receptive language is the language we understand. It includes things like understanding a conversation, understanding vocabulary, and following directions. We use receptive language skills when we are listening to someone speak and when we are reading.

How Does Language Processing Effect Social Communication?

From a social language standpoint, we must understand what our communicative partners are saying before we can interact with them. In order to communicate, we must have some ability to express ourselves. If we cannot do these things, we cannot be social with others. The more language we can understand and use, the more social we can be.

Section 2: Pragmatics

The area of Pragmatics consists of nonverbal communication and verbal responses.

Nonverbal communication consists of the aspects of communication that are not verbal.

  • Eye contact
  • Gestures (pointing or giving a thumbs up)
  • Body language (shrugging or slouching)
  • Facial expressions
  • Eye gaze
  • Proxemics (personal space)

Verbal communication is every verbal component of speech. They include:

  • Speech Acts (The reason why we are communicating). Speech acts include making requests, making comments, giving directions, making demands, negotiating, and making promises.
  • Prosody & Tone of Voice. This is the intonation, rhythm, tone, and rate of speech. Socially, we change our prosody based on our communicative partner. If we are talking to a peer, we talk quickly, with an informal tone. If we are giving a presentation, we talk more formally, using a different tone and rate.
  • Discourse (The kind of communication interaction we are having). Discourse includes conversations, telling stories, retelling events, or telling someone how to do something.

Each of these kinds of discourse have different functions socially. We converse when we want to get to know someone better. To share an event, we tell a story. If we are giving instructions, we need to be able to tell someone how to do something.

How Do Pragmatics Effect Social Communication?

From a social stand point, some types of communication might be an interaction. This means both people are equal participants. Other times, it might be a social transaction. This means one person is using the other person to get something, but is not trying to interact socially with the other person. For example, a student who only communicates to ask for food, is participating in a social transaction, but is not interacting with the person he/she is talking to.

Section 3: Social Cognition

What is social communication?

Social cognition is the awareness of social cues. Very simply speaking, it is the ability to look at another person, identify how they are feeling, and then change the way we interact with them based on that information. Social cognition is made of four areas: emotional intelligence, executive functioning, theory of mind, and joint attention.

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to interpret and understand the emotions of others.

Someone who struggles with emotional intelligence has a hard time understanding complex emotions and empathizing with others.

We do this by reading others nonverbal and verbal communication, and then changing how we interact with them, based on the signals they give us.

For example, pretend you come home and you see a family member is acting sluggish and sounds extra tired. You would probably ask “What is wrong?”, right?  You have used emotional intelligence to determine the other person don’t feel good. If you offer to get him/her medicine, then you have used the information that person gave you, to change your interaction.

Think about how you would change your interactions with others if you saw the following emotions.

  • Excited/happy
  • Angry/frustrated
  • Tired/sick
  • Jealous
  • Determined
  • Sad
  • Bored

Theory of Mind is the ability to understand that other people have their own thoughts and feelings that may be different from yours.

Many students with social communication disorders do not realize that others have different thoughts and opinions from themselves. Socially speaking, this is important because it helps regulate how we interact with others.  

Consider this example. I might be having a lot of fun playing a game, but if I can tell that my friend looks bored, I might offer to change the activity. Even though I think the game is fun, I understand that my friend might not.

Someone who struggles with theory of mind, has a hard time understanding that other people have different thoughts and feelings.

Executive function is a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. We use these skills to learn, work, and manage daily life.

Trouble with executive function can make it hard to focus, follow directions, and handle emotions. When we have difficulty with these tasks, we have a hard time interacting with others.

Joint Attention is the ability to share attention to the same thing as someone else.

If someone struggles with joint attention, they have a hard time paying attention to things that are not of interest to them. They are also not motivated to pay attention to what someone else is giving attention to.

For example, if we are interacting together and turn around and look at something, you will probably turn to look at what I am looking at, even if I didn’t say anything. This is joint attention. Those who struggle to interpret nonverbal communication often have a difficult time maintaining joint attention.

Section 4: Social Interactions

Social interactions are how we interact with others. Skills in this category include the ability to navigate power relationships, code switch, and problem solve in social situations. Let’s look at these a little closer.

Power Relationships are connections between two people defined by how much power/authority one person has over the other.

Power exists in every relationship. It is natural and healthy. Not everyone can be equal within each relationship. Power usually exists to help others or to keep people safe. If everyone had equal power, the world would be very chaotic.

In power relationships, we understand how to participate in each of these roles. We understand who our authority is, how to submit, and why it is important.  We also understand who are our peers, and how to interact with them, as well as how to interact with any subordinates we may have.

Code Switching is the ability to change the way you speak or act based on who you are interacting with.

For example, if you are bilingual, you code switch to know when to speak Spanish and when to speak English. In social communication, this means knowing how to act and speak around certain people. For example, you would understand that you use slang around your peers, and formal language with your authorities.

Social Problem Solving is the ability to solve problems in complex social situations. This includes compromising, apologizing, and agreeing respectfully.

In Conclusion…

As you can see, the social communication definition is very complex, which can make it very difficult to evaluate and treat.

If you are not an SLP and your student has been diagnosed with social communication and you still have questions, please reach out to your student’s Speech-Language Pathologist. He or she will know your child and be able to answer your specific questions.

Leave a Reply