About social communication disorder

Social communication disorder (SCD) is a newly defined disorder.

It was introduced in the 2013 edition of the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disordersDSM-5. It’s a subcategory under communication disorders.

DSM-5 also combined autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder and pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) into one diagnosis, which is simply referred to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Social communication disorder: common characteristics

Children with social communication disorder (SCD) have difficulties using verbal and non-verbal communication appropriately in social situations.

Children with SCD have trouble with:

  • communicating appropriately for social purposes – for example, smiling and saying ‘hello’, making eye contact while interacting with someone, or showing something interesting to another person, like pointing to a plane in the sky
  • communicating in different ways with different people – for example, speaking differently to children and adults, or communicating differently in a classroom and at a birthday party
  • following social ‘rules’ – for example, holding out your hand to shake hands, or taking turns during a conversation
  • understanding and using verbal and non-verbal cues – for example, knowing that if a person is looking around while you’re talking, the person might be bored
  • understanding the meaning behind words – for example, understanding that someone is warning you that the footpath is slippery when the person says, ‘Careful – the footpath is wet’
  • understanding that tone and context make words mean different things sometimes – for example, understanding sarcasm or phrases like ‘I’m over the moon’.
Children with SCD have the disorder from early in their development, but you might not notice the signs. The signs often become more obvious when a child is older and has to deal with more complicated social situations and rules.

How social communication disorder differs from autism spectrum disorder

Children with social communication disorder (SCD) have some of the characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). For example, children with SCD and children with ASD both have difficulty communicating for social purposes.

But children with SCD don’t have the repetitive behaviours, narrow interests, or ritualistic or compulsive behaviours that children must have to get a diagnosis of ASD.

Diagnosing social communication disorder

Social communication disorder (SCD) can be diagnosed by health professionals with experience in child development and developmental disorders like autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Diagnosing SCD is very similar to diagnosing autism spectrum disorder. It usually involves several health professionals, including speech pathologists and psychologists. It might include a combination of interviews, language assessments and behaviour assessments.

If you think your child might have SCD, it’s best to talk about your concerns as soon as possible with a trusted health professional, like your child and family health nurse, GP or paediatrician. These professionals can refer you to a specialist in child development for further assessment.

Therapies and interventions for social communication disorder

Because social communication disorder (SCD) was defined only in 2013, there are currently no therapies or interventions specifically for SCD. Also, there’s little evidence about how successful existing therapies are for SCD.

But children with SCD and children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have many of the same difficulties. This means that children with SCD can use the same types of therapies and interventions as children with ASD.

These therapies typically focus on children’s verbal and non-verbal communication, as well as social skills and play skills.

There’s a wide range of therapies and interventions for children with ASD listed in our Parent Guide to Therapies. Each guide gives you an overview of the therapy, what research says about it, and the approximate time and costs involved in using it.