What is social communication?

Social communication is the way we use language to communicate with other people. For young children, this might be using language to make their needs, wants and interests known. It might be your child smiling and looking at you when they are enjoying playing with a toy, or pointing to show you what they are interested in. Older children need good social communication skills in order to have conversations, build friendships and understand the thoughts, feelings and actions of others.

Building social communication skills

There are lots of things you can do to help your child to develop their social communication skills. You could…

  1. Share joint routines and games with your child. For example, sing action songs and rhymes together. Play tickling, kissing and peek-a-boo games. Use feathers, soft materials, sponges and brushes to touch your child’s body and face.
  2. Tempt your child to communicate with you by pausing and waiting. If they are really enjoying a game of tickling, stop and see what they do! If they look at you, smile or make a sound, this is your child’s way of letting you know they want you to carry on!
  3. Encourage your child to take simple turns with you, such as rolling a ball back and forward. See if they will let other adults or other children join in with the game!
  4. Make sure you have your child’s attention by getting down to their level and using simple language. You might need to touch their arm or face and say their name.
  5. Join in with your child’s play and follow their lead!
  6. Use visuals alongside your spoken language to help your child understand. For example, you could show your child their shoes every time it is time to go outside.

Assessing social communication skills

If your child is referred to the Speech and Language Therapy Service due to concerns with their social communication skills, a therapist will observe your child’s social communication skills by playing or talking with them. The therapist might carry out some assessments to see how well they can understand more abstract concepts like the thoughts and feelings of other people. The therapist might go to see your child in school or nursery and look at how they interact with other children. They will provide you with advice and strategies you can use.

Some children who experience social communication difficulties might be referred for an assessment to explore possible Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). If this is the case for your child, professionals will always discuss their concerns with you and make decisions jointly. If your child is being assessed for ASD, professionals will work together with each other and with you to reach the best outcome for your child and to provide you with advice.