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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.

Autism · Language · social language · Social Skills

The Difference in Social Communication and Pragmatic Language

Social Communication Disorder

I have a challenge for you. Write an essay telling me the difference between Social Communication and Pragmatic Language. Make sure you cite your references!

JUST KIDDING! I know you aren’t going to do that; you are reading this blog post because you want me to tell you the answer! So, keep on reading my friend and I will tell you what you want to know.

I have often heard people use the terms ‘Social Communication’ and ‘Pragmatic Language’ interchangeably, but they are not actually the same thing. Simply speaking, Pragmatic Language is a component of Social Communication.

According to ASHA, these are the areas that make up social communication:

This graph shows the difference between social communication and pragmatic language

What Exactly Is Nonverbal Communication and Verbal Communication?

Nonverbal communication consists of the aspects of communication that are nonverbal:

  • eye contact
  • gestures
  • body language
  • facial expressions
  • gaze
  • proxemics (personal space)
  • challenging behavior that is communicative in nature.

Verbal communication is every verbal component of speech:

  • Type of speech act
    • Requests
    • Comments
    • Directives
    • Demands
    • Promises
  • Communicative intentions
  • Prosody
  • Tone of Voice
  • Discourse
    • Discourse Style
      • Conversation
      • Narration
      • Expository
      • Procedural
    • Interaction vs Transaction
    • Cohesion and Coherence
    • Social Reciprocity
    • Etc.

Ok, now that is A LOT of stuff and that’s just the highlights. To see ASHA’s full list, click here. AND that is ONLY pragmatics! Social Communication also includes plain old expressive/receptive communication, social cognition (aka knowledge of social skills), and social interactions.

Once I realized how much more we need to be targeting to help our little friends with social communication impairments, I made it my personal goal to try and create a resource targeting each of these areas outlined by ASHA. I am not there yet, but if you keep reading, I am going to show you everything I have created so far.

Many of these items are extremely unique in the TPT marketplace because I have a hunch there are a lot of us that didn’t know the official name for some of these skills we have already been working on.

Expressing Affective Language

Expressing Affective Language

Have you ever had students whose social language skills weren’t quite right, but you couldn’t exactly put your finger on what was wrong? Did you notice that when you asked them questions, they could give you the right answer, but when it came time to use these skills in the real world, they couldn’t? In this situation, the problem is with the students ability to express pragmatic language. With this teaching guide, you can methodically teach your students how to use affective communication to connect with others using the included scaffolded and interactive lessons.

Do you understand affective communication? If you are still feeling a little murky, this post should clear it up for you!

Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, and Complex Emotions:

Empathy, Complex Emotions, and Emotional Intelligence Activities

Do your students with autism and social emotional disorders struggle to understand empathy and emotions? This resource contains no prep activities and scenarios focuses on teaching these skills, then practicing them in structured activities, so that your students can begin understand these complex concepts.

Does teaching empathy have you stumped? Go read this post on how I strategically teach this skill!

Making Friends Social Narrative and Activities

Making Friends Social Narrative and Activities

Do your students with social language difficulties know how to make new friends? Are you struggling to figure out to teach this complicated skill? I can help you! This social activity strategically breaks down the friend making process into 8 easy to understand steps. Then, students use the companion activities to practice what they have learned in a structured environment, leaving you feeling confident and productive.

If you are still feeling a little apprehensive about teaching friendship skills, go read this post. You might even find something that you can apply in your own life!

Making Friends Project Based Learning Activity

Making Friends Activity

Are you looking for an interesting new way to target social skills goals that is not just another worksheet? This no prep, hands on, and engaging project will get your student’s creative juices flowing while learning about the social skills that are needed to start and maintain a friendship.

Power Relationships Teaching Guide

Power Relationships, authority figures, and peer relationships activities and teaching guide

Do your students have trouble submitting to authority figures or bossing their peers around? Navigating social relationships can be tricky for students with social communication impairments, but it doesn’t have to be! This resource breaks this complex social skill into easy to understand chunks that will teach your students who they need to submit to and why.

Nonverbal Communication Teaching Guide and Activities

Nonverbal Communication Teaching Guide and Activities

Nonverbal communication can be tricky to teach. Most of us have learned these skills effortlessly, which makes breaking them down into easy to understand lessons quite tricky. This resource discusses the seven main areas of nonverbal communication (facial expressions, body language, gestures, touch, personal space, eye contact, and tone of voice). Each area is introduced with a reading passage and contains an expansion activity so students can practice the skills. The focus of this resource is to help you teach these vague skills using a concrete, methodic approach to improve your student’s understanding.

Conversation Social Narrative and Activity Packet

How to have a conversation teaching activity

Knowing where to start when teaching conversation skills can be confusing. This is an important topic and needs to be taught intentionally. This social activity helps students learn the fundamentals of conversation skills by strategically breaking down this complex social skill into manageable step by step instructions, leaving you feeling confident and productive.

I love teaching conversation skills! Go check out this blog post to see how I teach them to my students!

Oral Narrative and Storytelling Teaching Guide

Oral Narrative and story telling activities

There has been a lot of research coming out in the past few years indicating the importance of working on oral narrative and story telling skills to help develop other language skills. Targeting these skills improves writing abilities and other areas of language such as grammar, vocabulary, and pragmatics. This interactive notebook uses evidence based strategies in a step by step, scaffolded hierarchy to help students practice telling stories.

Do you know why targeting oral narratives in speech therapy is so important? Read this post to learn more!

Tone of Voice Teaching Guide

how to teach tone of voice

If you have ever wondered how to begin teaching tone of voice, you are not alone. This resource will guide you through the process of teaching this complex skill in easy to understand steps. The resource contains informative texts that introduce the topic of tone of voice and also has audio clips and other guided practice activities to help your students understand what tone of voice is, how to listen for it, and how to use it.

Or if you want to read how I teach tone of voice using 4 easy steps, click here!

A Conversation With a Famous Person

Conversation skills hands on activities

Are you ready to try a different approach to practicing conversation skills? Do you love targeting multiple skills during one activity? Your students will love practicing this social skill while having a pretend conversation with a famous person! This engaging pragmatic language activity has everything you need to get your students talking!

References: https://www.asha.org/uploadedFiles/ASHA/Practice_Portal/Clinical_Topics/Social_Communication_Disorders_in_School-Age_Children/Components-of-Social-Communication.pdf

If you’re interested in upping your pragmatic language therapy/evaluation game then you have come to the right place. Let me share my tips and tricks with you so that you can approach this tricky area with confidence. Click here and we can start learning together–I even want to give you a free pragmatic language evaluation checklist so you can sample my work. If my style isn’t your cup of tea, you can unsubscribe at anytime 🙂

Autism · social language · Social Skills

Activities for Teaching Empathy to Middle Schoolers

How to teach empathy

Where do you even start when you are trying to create activities for teaching empathy to the middle schoolers on your caseload? First, answer this question: how do you define empathy? I mean, really, take a second and try to put words to it. When I first sat down and tried to define empathy, the first thing I felt was an emotion. I know what empathy feels like, but a definition with words took a little more thought. After doing some research and reflection, this is the definition I settled on:

“Empathy is the ability to imagine a situation that another person is experiencing as if it is happening to you.”

Ok, so now we have a definition, but how do we help our students apply meaning to that definition? How do we help them to generate that feeling that we feel when think about empathy? How do we teach them WHY it is important to be empathetic in the first place?

These are the steps I use to answer those questions:

  1. Like we discussed in Part One, we first start by teaching about emotions, particularly the more complex emotions. However, since we already talked about emotions, let’s focus our thoughts on the next steps.
  2. I always enjoy trying to find an engaging activity to introduce a new skill. To introduce empathy, I might do this using a video. The Disney Pixar Shorts are a really good way to do this. There is not much distracting dialogue, so you can really take the time to emphasize the characters and how their body language gives you a clue as to how they might be feeling. If time allows, I would allow my students to watch the video through once in its entirety to absorb the message. Then, we would go back and pause the video to discuss each new emotion. If you have already been practicing emotions, hopefully your students will be doing well with this.
  3. If you have been working on emotions using my strategies, then you know that first we need to focus on teaching our students to identify their own emotions. After our students can identify their own emotions, we begin practicing taking someone else’s perspective and imagining how a situation might make the other person feel. This is the beginning of teaching someone to be empathetic.
  4. But we don’t just want our students to understand empathy, we want our students to actually express empathy! Expression of empathy is what develops friendships and inclusion in social situations. I teach this by giving my students a list of scenarios. An example scenario might be “What would you want someone to do or say for you if you were hurt or sick?” We could talk about how we like it when someone asks if we aren’t feeling well, or that we appreciate it when someone makes us a special food or gives us a hug when we are sad.
  5. Once we have talked about what we like others to do or say when we are experiencing a particular feeling or emotion, we make a plan regarding what we could say or do to express empathy when we observe someone else experiencing that feeling or emotion. I will give you a hint…it’s probably the same answer! If we go back to the feeling sick example, we would express empathy by asking someone “Are you feeling ok?” or by making special cookies to give to the person who isn’t feeling well.
  6. Drill and practice. Challenge your students to generate ways they could express empathy when they see others experiencing a feeling or emotion.

If you would like to learn more about teaching empathy and complex emotions, check out my resource Empathy and Emotions Activities. This resource contains activities that will help you teach complex emotions and empathy using the strategies outlined in this post.

I hope this post gave you some new activities for teaching empathy to the middle schoolers on your caseload! If you have any other tips or strategies, please leave them in the comments below so everyone can learn something new!

If you’re interested in upping your pragmatic language therapy/evaluation game then you have come to the right place. Let me share my tips and tricks with you so that you can approach this tricky area with confidence. Click here and we can start learning together–I even want to give you a free pragmatic language evaluation checklist so you can sample my work. If my style isn’t your cup of tea, you can unsubscribe at anytime 🙂

Click the image above to get a free copy of this pragmatic language evaluation checklist!