Social Communication Disorders in School-Age Children

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) play a critical role in the screening, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of school-age children with social communication disorders. Social communication challenges can result in far-reaching problems, including difficulties with shared enjoyment, social reciprocity in verbal and nonverbal interactions, play, peer interactions, comprehension of others' intentions, emotional regulation, spoken and written narratives, and literacy skills. Social communication norms may vary significantly across individuals and cultures. SLPs determine a child's norms within the context of his or her environment to differentiate a language difference from a disorder.

Family members, peers, and other communication partners may encounter barriers in their efforts to communicate and interact with individuals with social communication disorders. Therefore, the SLP's role is critical in supporting the individual, the environment, and the communication partner in order to maximize opportunities for interaction and assist in overcoming barriers that might lead to social isolation if left unmitigated.

SLPs play a central role in the screening, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of social communication disorders in children. The professional roles and activities in speech-language pathology include clinical/educational services (diagnosis, assessment, planning, and treatment), advocacy, education, administration, and research. See ASHA's Scope of Practice in Speech-Language Pathology (ASHA, 2016).

Appropriate roles for speech-language pathologists include

  • providing prevention information to individuals and groups known to be at risk for social communication disorders and to individuals working with those at risk;
  • educating other professionals on the needs of children with social communication disorders and the role of SLPs in screening, assessing, diagnosing, and managing social communication disorders;
  • screening of social communication skills for early detection, when a social communication disorder is suspected and as part of a comprehensive speech-language evaluation for a child with communication concerns;
  • conducting a culturally and linguistically relevant comprehensive assessment of social cognition, social interaction, pragmatics, and language processing for the purpose of communication;
  • diagnosing the presence or absence of social communication disorders;
  • referring the patient/client to other professionals to rule out other conditions, determine etiology, and facilitate access to comprehensive services;
  • developing culturally and linguistically relevant treatment and intervention plans focused on helping the child achieve social communication competence, providing treatment, documenting progress, and determining appropriate dismissal criteria;
  • recommending related services when necessary for daily classroom management and therapy;
  • counseling individuals with social communication disorders and their families and providing education aimed at preventing further complications related to social communication disorders;
  • consulting and collaborating with families, individuals with social communication disorders, other professionals, support personnel, peers, and other invested parties to identify priorities and build consensus on an intervention plan focused on functional outcomes;
  • remaining informed of research in the area of social communication disorders and advancing the knowledge base of the nature of the disability, screening, diagnosis, prognostic indicators, assessment, treatment, and service delivery for individuals with social communication disorders;
  • advocating for individuals with social communication disorders and their families at the local, state, and national levels.

As indicated in the Code of Ethics, SLPs who serve this population should be specifically educated and appropriately trained to do so.

Content Disclaimer: The Practice Portal, ASHA policy documents, and guidelines contain information for use in all settings; however, members must consider all applicable local, state and federal requirements when applying the information in their specific work setting.