About social communication disorder
Children with social communication disorder have difficulties using verbal and non-verbal communication for social purposes.
Children with social communication disorder have trouble with:
- communicating 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 social communication disorder might also have more general behaviour or emotional difficulties. For example, they might:
- feel anxious or worried, particularly in social situations
- find it hard to concentrate or pay attention
- might have difficulty managing their emotions.
Social communication disorder is sometimes called pragmatic language impairment (PLI).
Children with social communication disorder 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.
Diagnosing social communication disorder
Health professionals with experience in child development and developmental disorders like autism can diagnose social communication disorder.
Diagnosing social communication disorder 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 social communication disorder, 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.
Social communication disorder or autism?
Children with social communication disorder have some of the characteristics of autism.
For example, children with social communication disorder and autistic children have difficulty communicating for social purposes.
But autistic children also have repetitive behaviours and narrow interests. Some children with social communication disorder might have some mild repetitive behaviours and narrow interests, but this isn’t enough for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.
Neurodiversity is the idea that there’s natural variation in how people’s brains work and how people experience, understand and interact with the world. Neurodiversity is a good thing. Embracing neurodiversity is about accepting, including, celebrating and supporting children who are neurodivergent, including children with social communication disorder.
Therapies and supports for social communication disorder
There are currently no therapies or supports specifically for social communication disorder. Also, there’s little evidence about how successful existing therapies are for social communication disorder.
But children with social communication disorder and autistic children have many of the same difficulties. This means that children with social communication disorder can use the same types of therapies and supports as autistic children.
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 supports listed in our parent guide to therapies for autistic children. Each guide gives you an overview of the therapy, what research says about it, and the approximate time and costs involved in using it.