Social Communication: Definition, Assessment & Treatment

As per request on a recent Instagram post looking for suggestions, today’s blog post will be about social communication and social communication disorder (SCD). Before explaining the disorder itself, it’s important to lay the framework of what is meant by “social communication” in general. According to Adams (2005), social communication is the combination of social interaction, social cognition, pragmatics, and receptive/expressive language.

Social interaction refers to one’s ability to acknowledge that other people are social beings (Adams, 2005). Per ASHA (n.d.), social interaction includes, but is not limited to, communication style, language use/code switching, social reasoning and competence, and conflict resolution.


Social cognition describes one’s ability to connect with and understand the emotions of oneself and others, as well as understand the nuances of language and make inferences from context cues (Adams, 2005).
Pragmatics is how we use language in social situations using unwritten rules based on the context. For example, a person may use language differently when speaking to a peer versus a parent (Adams, 2005). Pragmatic skills include, but are not limited to, maintaining the topic of conversation, initiating a conversation or interaction, making eye contact, repairing conversational breakdowns, and taking turns.
Receptive language is comprehension of language and expressive language is the expressive output of language. Language includes reading, writing, speaking, gesturing, and understanding. Components of receptive/expressive language are syntax (word order), morphology (word forms), and semantics (vocabulary), and phonology (speech sounds).
When an individual has a SCD, s/he can experience difficulties in any or all of the areas of social communication described above. SCDs can co-occur with other conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder, developmental disabilities, or traumatic brain injury, but may also stand alone. Social communication is heavily linked to culture, so an individual’s expected behavior will vary from person to person and community to community. If there are concerns with a person’s social communication skills, a speech-language pathologist can perform an in-depth evaluation to determine if any aspect of the person’s communication deviates from the norm of his/her particular society and/or culture. The evaluation would likely include interviews with caregivers and relevant others (e.g., teachers, employers), clinical observation of the client in a social situation, standardized assessment, and non-standardized analysis of all communication domains.
If it is determined that individual does have a SCD, speech therapy can be provided to assist the client in having more successful social interactions and relationships with caregivers, peers, colleagues, teachers, etc. Speech therapy sessions should be catered to individual client’s needs while taking research and best practices into account. The specific structure of a speech therapy session for SCDs would depend heavily on the client’s noted areas of breakdown. Speech therapy sessions could be provided one-on-one to teach specific social rules; however, it is important that speech therapy sessions also occur in group or social situations to ensure carryover of the skills learned. Social stories may be used to help the individual understand the difference between what s/he is doing versus what the social expectation or norm is.
Do you have specific questions or concerns about social communication or SCDs? Leave a comment below, so that it can be addressed.
Adams, C. (2005). Social communication intervention for school-age children: Rationale and description. Seminars in Speech and Language, 26(3), 181-188.
ASHA (n.d.). Social communication disorders in school-aged children. Retrieved from§ion=Overview.
Courtney Caruso
Courtney Caruso, M.S., CCC-SLP, is a bilingual (English/Spanish) speech-language pathologist and the owner and founder of Liberty Speech Associates LLC, a speech therapy practice in northern New Jersey. She ...
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