Social Skills Development

How speech pathology can assist social skills development

Social skills development Northern Sydney
Social skills are vital for establishing and maintaining friendships. As well as holding conversations and interacting with the world around us. Social communication skills are also known as pragmatics. In other words, 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 both look at someone if you are talking to them and take turns in a conversation. Similarly, it also includes what to do if you don’t understand what someone has said. Overall, knowing these rules makes it easier to communicate and keep friendships.
Difficulty with social communication skills may occur for autistic children and adults. However, a social communication disorder can be present in any person. Who have comparatively poor social skills when compared to their ability to use language and understand language[1].
“Children who have difficulty with social communication skills often have difficulty making conversation with others”

What does a difficulty with social skills look like?

Social skills are important for children and adults alike. But, some social communication difficulties are more obvious than others. For instance, difficulty taking turns in games. Moreover, conversation skills are commonly known areas targeted in social communication therapy. Although, this is only brushing the surface of the skills required in everyday life.
To begin with, those with social communication difficulties often have difficulty making conversation. They may give too little or too much information. Or be reluctant to take a turn. Perhaps they fail to give someone else a turn in the conversation. Consequently, this often results in failed conversations. As a result of the child/adult contributing too much, not enough, or the wrong thing.
Generally, people with social communication disorders have difficulty keeping in mind the other people in a conversation. This certainly contributes to difficulty in clearly explaining their thoughts and ideas. For the same reason, they also struggle to identify when or why another person has misunderstood their message. To illustrate, a person with social communication difficulties who has been misunderstood may attempt to correct the conversation by repeating the same information. Without understanding the need, put it another way for the listener.
To conclude, studies that followed the development of children across their lifetimes. Show that people with social communication difficulties often struggle to develop long-term friendships[2]. For the same reason, they have higher correlations to social isolation from middle primary age. As well as anxiety disorders, and depression[3][4]. For this reason, the identification and development of these skills are vital to support a child’s social and emotional well-being.
“Identification and development of social communication 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[5]. With this in mind, please talk to our speech pathology team if your child has difficulties in two or more of these areas:

  • Initiating play with other children
  • Taking turns in play
  • Taking turns 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
“People with social skills difficulties are encouraged to develop their ability to think, monitor and adjust their thinking and understanding of communication[6] by using a range of tools”

How Talkshop Speech Pathology can help with social skills


We complete a social communication assessment during the first session. Before you arrive, we will ask you to complete a checklist with a rating scale rating. This will consider abilities in a range of everyday social settings and activities. During the session, a speech pathologist will complete additional assessments. In order to measure the level of interaction and communication during activities and in play or conversation.
In addition to these areas, teenagers and adults may also fill out self-rating scales. Or subsequent higher-level language assessments. In that case, looking at skills like problem-solving. Predicting what could happen next and considering consequences. And finally, inferencing skills such as understanding metaphors, sarcasm, jokes, and idioms.


Following the assessment, each person is provided with an assessment report. This includes an individualised therapy management plan so as to clearly detail the focus and goals of therapy. Generally speaking, social skills therapy may be delivered in one-to-one therapy sessions or groups. In light of this, we have a number of different options throughout the year for different age groups.
Children, teenagers, and adults with social skills difficulties are encouraged to develop their ability to develop and monitor their thinking. While simultaneously improving their understanding of communication[6].
The therapy uses a range of tools, to begin with often using video feedback and role-play. Furthermore, collaborative brainstorming and problem-solving target developing awareness of social skills. Overall, therapy aims to improve an individuals understanding of social communication expectations and the development of strategies.
Social Skills Programs
At Talkshop, we use the Social Communication Intervention Program (SCIP)[5] and the Superflex superhero social thinking curriculum. To work with families and schools to identify meaningful social communication goals. Therefore, allowing therapy to make the most impact in their everyday lives.
Teenagers may attend individual or group therapy at Talkshop. Additionally, 2021 saw the introduction of our adolescent PEERS and Life Skills group. These groups are significantly more functional with an extra focus on communication for life skills:
  • Ordering food
  • Meeting for dinner
  • Being an active member of a social group
  • Solving problems with friends
  • Managing conflict
  • Requesting assistance and help
  • Dating
  • Purchasing tickets
  • Talking to the driving instructor
Common therapy examples for this age group include topping up an Opal card, working out a bus route and catching a bus, or ordering food at a cafe. This requires core social skills for success. For example, therapy targets for ordering food would first include the ability to scan menu boards. Followed by, understanding which queue is for people waiting to order versus having ordered and waiting to be served. Not to mention, knowing how to start a verbal order with someone who may be time-poor. As well as, knowing how to ask for the price and making payment. Further, this 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. As well as 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[7]:
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

To illustrate the use and understanding of gestures, facial expressions, body postures, body language, and proximity. For example, understanding that a person who is tapping their foot is likely feeling impatient. Or, not standing too close to a stranger when you are speaking with them.

Social-emotional attunement

That is 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. Or that crying is most likely to mean sadness.

Executive function

This supports the ability to attend to interactions and be flexible in how they respond and in what is said. In this case, it supports the skills of responding rather than reacting. This means being able to change topics and adjust to questions. Or to emphasise giving more information if a person doesn’t understand.


In particular, this focuses on the ability to cooperate and negotiate appropriately in games, activities, and everyday life.

Improving social skills requires regular practice. Research shows that practice with different people and in different places improve the use of newly learned skills[8]. With this in mind adolescent and adult clients are often supported to try new skills during community sessions. With the intention to practice new skills in real life outside of the clinic room.
“We encourage our older clients and adults to step into our local community and apply their developing skills in a real-life situation.”

Our FREE Discovery Session is ideal for anyone with any questions relating to speech, stuttering, language, literacy, social skills, swallowing, and voice.

This is an opportunity for us to give some information on how to monitor your concern and give you advice on how to start self-managing any issues immediately.

Discovery Sessions can help you understand if an assessment or therapy is needed, how Speech Therapy would work, and if appropriate, help you book in.


1 Bishop, D, V, M. (2000) Pragmatic language impairment: a correlate of SLI, a distinct subgroup, or part of the autistic continuum? In D.V.M Bishop and L. B. Leonards (eds), Speech and language impairments in children: Causes, Characteristics, Interventions, and Outcomes. Hovw: Psychology Press, pp. 99-113 Accessed 11 Jan. 2019.

2 Gates, J. A., Kang, E., & Lerner, M. D. (2017) Efficacy of group social skills interventions for youth with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review. Vol 52, March 2017. P 164-181. Accessed 11 Jan. 2019.

3 Badiel, D. C., Alfano, C. A., Kofler, M. J., & Rao, P. A. (2014) The Impact of Social Skills Training For Social Anxiety Disorder: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. Vol 28, Issue 8, Dec 2014. P 908-918. Accessed 14 Jan. 2019.

4 Angelico, A. P., Crippa, J. A. S., Loureiro, S. R. (2013) Social Anxiety Disorder and Social Skills: A Critical Review of the Literature. International Journal of Behavioural Consultation and Therapy. Vol 7. No4. Accessed 14 Jan. 2019.

5 Adams, C., Lockton, E., Freed, J., Gaile, J., Earl, G., McBean, K., Nash, M., Green, J., Vail, A., & Law, J. (2012) The Social Communication Intervention Project: a randomized control trial of the effectiveness of speech and language therapy for school-aged children who have pragmatic and social communication problems with or without autism spectrum disorder. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders. 47(3) 233-244. Accessed 11 Jan. 2019.

Gaile, J. & Adams, C. (2018) Metacognition in speech and language therapy for children with social (pragmatic) communication disorders: implications for a theory of therapy. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders. 53 (1) 55-69 Accessed 11 Jan. 2019.

7 Parsons, P., Cordier, R., Munro, N., Joosten, A. & Speyer, R. (2017) A systematic review of pragmatic language interventions for children with an autism spectrum disorder. PLoS One 12 (4): e0172242 Accessed 11 Jan. 2019.

8 Parsons, S., Leonard, A., & Mitchell, P. (2006). Virtual environments for social skills training: Comments from two adolescents with autistic spectrum disorder. Computers & Education, 47(2), 186-206. Accessed 11 Jan. 2019.

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