PRAGMATIC/ SOCIAL COMMUNICATION
Pragmatics refers to the way in which children use language within social situations. Pragmatic language refers to the social language skills that we use in our daily interactions with others. This includes what we say, how we say it, our non-verbal communication (eye contact, facial expressions, body language etc.) and how appropriate our interactions are in a given situation.
It has three components including:
- The ability to use language for different purposes (e.g. to greet, inform people about things, demand, command, request).
- The ability to adapt language to meet the needs of the listener or situation (e.g. talking differently to a baby versus an adult, talking louder when there is lots of noise, being aware of the listener’s knowledge and giving more information or less when needed).
- Following the often “unspoken” rules of conversation and storytelling (e.g. taking turns in conversations, looking at the speaker, standing at an appropriate distance from the speaker, using facial expressions and gestures). The rules of conversation are often different across cultures, within cultures and within different families. It is therefore important for a person to quickly understand the rules of the person with whom they are communicating.
Children with a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD, including Asperger’s Syndrome) and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified) have difficulties with social communication (pragmatic skills)
Building blocks necessary to develop pragmatics:
- Receptive (understanding) language: Comprehension of language.
- Expressive (using) language: The use of language through speech, sign or alternative forms of communication to communicate wants, needs, thoughts and ideas.
- Pre-language skills:The ways in which we communicate without using words and include things such as gestures, facial expressions, imitation, joint attention and eye-contact.
- Executive functioning:Higher order reasoning and thinking skills.
- Self regulation:The ability to obtain, maintain and change one’s emotion, behaviour, attention and activity level appropriate for a task or situation in a socially acceptable manner.
The stages of development of social communication (pragmatics) are as follows:
SOCIAL COMMUNICATION SKILL
|· Brings objects to an adult to show them.
· Tries to gain attention by using sounds, gestures, grabbing them by the hand.
· Waves to say hello or goodbye or says the word “bye”.
· Requests things using gestures, sounds or words (e.g. reaches for the biscuits in the cupboard).
· Protests by shaking head, vocalizing or pushing an object away.
· Comments on an object or action by getting the adult’s attention, pointing, vocalizing or saying a word (e.g. pointing to the dog and saying “woof woof” with the intention of showing the dog to the adult)
18 months – 2years
|· Uses words or short phrases for various language functions (e.g. greeting: “hello”, “bye bye”; protesting: “no”, “mine”; making a statement: “ball blue”; giving a direction: saying “ball” while pointing for you to get the ball).
· Uses phrases like “What’s that?” to get attention.
· Names things in front of other people.
· Engages in verbal turn taking.
4 – 5 years
|· Can use terms correctly, such as ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘here’ and ‘there’.
· Uses language to discuss emotions and feelings more regularly.
· Uses indirect requests (e.g. “I’m hungry” to request food).
· Telling stories is developing and the child can describe a sequence of events (e.g. “The man is on the horse and he is going to jump over the fence and then he is going to go home”).
5 – 6 years
· The ability to tell stories develops and the child is now able to tell a story with a central character and a logical sequence of events, but still may have difficulties with the ending (e.g. “Once upon a time there was a little boy called Joe who has a sister and a brother and likes to go fishing. One day …….”).
· Beginning to make threats and can give insults.
· May praise others (“Well done, you did it”).
· Beginning to be able to make promises (e.g. “I promise I will do it tomorrow”).
Difficulties with social communication might:
- Have difficulty remaining on topic in conversation.
- Not try to gain the attention of adults because they do not know how to or does so inappropriately.
- Tend to stand too close to the speaker and is unaware of personal space.
- Tell stories in a disorganized way.
- Have difficulty looking at the speaker or may look too intensely at the speaker.
- Dominate conversations and does not listen.
- Does not ask for clarification when they haven’t understood.
- Be unable to interpret the tone of voice in others (e.g. does not recognize an angry versus a happy voice).
- Use language in a limited way (e.g. only gives directions or makes statements but doesn’t greet or ask questions).
- Have difficulty understanding another person’s point of view.
- Have difficulty making friends.
- Difficulty in maintaining friendships with peers.
- Difficulties to engage appropriately with unfamiliar individuals (e.g. shop owner) and with professionals you need to see for appointments (e.g. doctor, dentist).
- Difficulty to interact with colleagues in the work environment.
Activities to improve pragmatics
- Role play:Engage in role play activities with adults and other children to simulate social situations (e.g. going shopping, going to the park, visiting grandparents).
- Turn-taking games:Engage in turn taking games, such as board games to teach the child that it is ‘okay to lose’.
- Facial expressions:Look at facial expressions and discuss the feelings associated with the facial expressions.
- Miming:Practice through miming making faces that show different feelings.
- Describing activities:Look at pictures together to encourage descriptive language about a topic or thing, with the adult prompting to keep the child on topic.
- Puppets:Take part in role play or puppet shows after watching a modeled situation.
- Comic strips:Use appropriate comic strips that illustrate social situations (do’s or don’ts) and talk explicitly about what is happening.
- Social skills groups:Work with the school to set up small structured groups where social skills can be practiced (e.g. turn taking, waiting, responding, staying on topic, questioning).
- Social stories:Develop social stories that depict how to behave and respond in certain social situations.
- Greetings:Encourage your child to say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ in social interactions.
Therapy recommended for pragmatics difficulties
If your child has difficulties with social communication, it is recommended to consult a Speech Therapist. If there are multiple areas of concern (i.e. beyond just social communication) both Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy may well be recommended to address the functional areas of concern.