Social skills are vital for establishing and developing friendships, holding conversations and interacting with the world around us. Social communication skills are also known as pragmatics. These are the ‘rules’ that we follow when we talk to others. As your child develops, they begin to learn the unspoken rules of conversation. For example, you should look at someone if you are talking to them, take turns in a conversation, what to do if you don’t understand what someone has said. Knowing these rules makes it easier to communicate and establish friendships.
A difficulty with communication skills is often related to children and adults with autism. However, a social communication disorder can be present in any person who has a greater difficulty in social communication relative to their ability to use language and understand language.
What does a difficulty with social skills look ike?
Some social communication difficulties are more obvious than others. Difficulty making eye contact or taking turns in games or conversation are commonly known areas that are targeted in social communication therapy. However, this is only brushing the surface of the skills required in everyday life.
Children who have difficulty with social communication skills often have difficulty making conversation with others making conversations with others. They may give too little or too much information and be reluctant to take a turn or fail to give someone else a turn in the conversation. This often results in poor conversations where the child has contributed too much, not enough, or said the wrong thing.
Typically children with social communication disorders have difficulty considering the person or people they are talking with. This results in difficulty clearly explaining their thoughts and ideas. This means they also struggle to to identify when or why another person has misunderstood their message. For example, a child with a social communication disorder who is trying to explain a point that has been misunderstood will give the same information the second and third time, with little understanding that more or different information is needed to help the other person understand.
Studies that have followed the development of children across their lifetime have shown that, children and adults with social communication difficulties often have difficulties establishing and maintaining long-term friendships with higher correlations to social isolation from middle primary age, anxiety disorders and depression . This means the identification and development of these skills are vital to support a child’s social and emotional well being.
When to seek help
Emerging evidence suggests that social communication difficulties in the primary school years may be related to emotional and behavioural difficulties in later life. Please talk to our speech pathology team if your child has difficulties in two or more of these areas:
- Making eye contact with friends and family
- Initiating play with other children
- Taking turns in play
- Taking turning in conversation
- Provides too much or too little information
- Changes topic frequently
- Does not respond appropriately to questions
- Negotiating with peers
- Identifying emotions (on faces or intonation)
- Understanding the ‘hidden rules’ in everyday life
How Talkshop Speech Pathology can help with social skills
Assessment of social communication skills is completed during your child’s session. We will ask you to complete a checklist with a rating scale rating your child’s abilities on a range of everyday social and play activities. During the session we complete additional checklists measuring your child’s ability to interact, engage, and communicate during structured activities and in play.
In addition to these assessment areas older children, adolescents and adults may be asked to fill out self-rating scales or complete higher level language assessments. This means looking at skills like problem-solving, predicting (what could happen next, consequences etc), inferencing skills such as understanding metaphors, sarcasm, jokes, and idioms.
Following assessment, each person is provided with an assessment report and an individualised therapy management plan focus therapy goals on skills that require development. Social skills/communication skills therapy can be done in one-to-one therapy sessions or in groups. We have a number of different options through the year for different age groups.
Children, teenagers and adults with social skills difficulties are encouraged to develop their ability to think, monitor and adjust their thinking and understanding of communication.
We use a range of tools including video feedback, role-play, brainstorming, problem-solving to target awareness and understanding of social communication expectations and development of strategies.
Social Skills Programs
At Talkshop, we use the Social Communication Intervention Program (SCIP) and the Superflex superhero social thinking curriculum to work with families and school to identify meaningful social communication goals which will make the most impact in their everyday lives.
We run speech pathology social skills training programs, and we have some fun social clubs starting for primary age children Talkshop Lego Club and Talkshop Coding Club with a focus on social skills.
These groups are much more functional with an extra focus on communication for life skills:
- Ordering food
- Requesting assistance
- Asking for help
- Purchasing tickets
- Talking to driving instructor
Common examples may be, topping up an Opal card, working out a bus route an catching a bus, or ordering food at a fast-food outlet. This requires core social skills such as scanning literacy skills to scan menu boards, understanding which queue is for people waiting to order versus having ordered and waiting to be served, knowing how to start a verbal order with someone who may be time poor, knowing how to ask for the price and making payment. Such a simple task also requires cognitive skills such as being able to anticipate what may be asked, but also the ability to be flexible and respond to a novel situation. To be able to do this well socially requires many social communication skills coming together.
The other key area we focus on with adolescents/ young adults is being able to identify, verbalise and talk about feelings and how to date appropriately. It is particularly complex for individuals with social skill difficulties to read and respond to social cues appropriately.
Social Skills Groups
The following five areas are typically targeted in social skills groups – these are based on the Systematic Review of Pragmatic Language Interventions:
- Introduction and responsiveness
This focuses on the ability to introduce and respond to communication from another person. This means being able to engage in a conversation, take turns, or start a conversation.
- Non-verbal communication
This focuses on the use and understanding of gestures, facial expressions, body postures, body language and proximity. For example, understanding that a person who is taping their foot, is likely feeling impatient. Or, not standing too close to a stranger when you are speaking with them.
- Social-emotional attunement
This means being able to interpret the emotional reactions of others. For example, interpreting that an expressionless face may indicate boredom, that rolling eyes may indicate exasperation or derision, that crying is most likely to mean sadness.
- Executive function
This supports the ability to attend to interactions and be flexible in how they repond and in what is said. It supports the skills of responding rather than reacting. This means being able to change topics, adjust to questions, give more information if a person doesn’t understand
This focuses on the ability to cooperate and negotiate appropriately in games, activities and everyday life.
Improving social skills requires regular practice. Evidence shows that practising in a variety of settings with a variety of people helps to improve the use of newly learned social communication skills in everyday life. As well as providing weekly home practice we encourage our older clients and adults to step into our local community and apply their developing skills in a real-life situation.