Social language, also called pragmatic language, refers to the use of language in social situations. Social language skills include the ability to use language for different purposes, such as to greet others, make requests, ask questions, and make comments. Social language also includes the ability to understand the rules of conversation, such as taking turns, introducing a topic, and staying on topic. Using non-verbal communication appropriately, including eye contact, body position, and facial expression, during social interactions is another critical aspect of social language. All of these important social language skills are built upon an awareness of the listener’s perspective during social exchanges. Social language deficits frequently co-occur with other speech and/or language disorders. Often, children who are challenged by speech and/or language disorders require additional support and guidance to initiate and maintain a social interaction and to communicate effectively and confidently with peers.
Because children encounter a variety of social situations in everyday life, social language deficits have a significant impact on a child. Forming friendships, participating in play dates, and being an accepted member of a classroom can all become difficult in the face of a social language disorder.
We are committed to helping children improve their social language skills at Children’s Speech and Language Services. For our young children with social language deficits, opportunities to socialize with similar-aged peers in therapy rooms or in our sensory-motor room are provided whenever possible. During a ten to fifteen minute social time, therapists help children with greetings, non-verbal communication, simple conversational skills, cooperative play and turn-taking. Similarly, for older preschoolers and school-aged children, we address social language skills such as conversational skills, non-verbal communication, perspective taking, turn-taking and flexibility during conversations and cooperative games. We also offer social skills groups for preschoolers and school-aged children.
What might a social language deficit look like in a child?
A child with a social language deficit may:
- Tend to play alone or with adults because he or she does not have the tools to initiate and maintain play and conversation with peers.
- Use language for few but not many purposes. For example, a child may use language to make requests for desired objects and activities, but might not greet others, make comments, or ask/answer questions.
- Show limited awareness of the listener, have difficulty following conversational rules such as turn-taking and staying on topic, and struggle to use appropriate non-verbal communication such as eye contact during conversations.
For tips on how you can help your child improve his or her social language skills, visithttp://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/PragmaticLanguageTips.htm
How should my child’s social language and play skills develop?
By age twelve months, your child should:
- Demonstrate functional play skills. Functional play means using objects for their given purpose, such as rolling a truck on a surface or stacking blocks. Functional play ranges from simple to more complex and elaborate.
By age twenty-four to thirty six months, your child should:
- Engage in symbolic-pretend play (also known as imaginary play). Initially, play scripts are based on first-hand experiences and carried out with the use of realistic props.
- Use language for different purposes, such as to greet others, make requests, ask and answer questions, and make comments.
- Sustain a motivating, fun interaction for at least fifteen minutes.
- Know when he or she is not clear and make simple changes to be understood.
- Be able to answer simple questions about events from the immediate past or imminent future.
- Interact with peers during one-on-one interactions.
- Comprehend basic “wh” questions.
By age thirty-six to forty-eight months, your child should:
- Engage in more sophisticated symbolic-pretend play. Language is increasingly used to plan and narrate play. Children create roles for themselves and dolls/characters.
- Participate in small peer groups.
- Engage in pretend play with adult and peer play partners.
- Converse on the same topic for at least two-three conversational exchanges with adults and peers.
- Demonstrate awareness of the listener by adjusting what he or she is saying based on the characteristics of the listener (e.g. speak more simply to a small child).
- Comprehend more complex “wh” questions.
- Be aware of a miscommunication and repair the communication breakdown.
American Speech-Hearing-Language Association website (2012). Social Language Use (Pragmatics). http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/Pragmatics/
Greenspan, S. I., & Lewis, D. (2002). The Affect-Based Language Curriculum (ABLC): An Intensive Program for Families, Therapists and Teachers. Bethesda, MD: Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders.
Wolfberg, P. (2003). Peer Play and the Autism Spectrum: The Art of Guiding Children’s Socialization and Imagination. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Co.