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Social Communication Disorder

The scope of this page is social communication disorder across the life span.

See the Social Communication Disorder Evidence Map for summaries of the available research on this topic.

Social Communication

Social communication is the use of language in social contexts. It encompasses social interaction, social cognition, pragmatics, and language processing.

Social communication skills include the ability to vary speech style, take the perspective of others, understand and appropriately use the rules for verbal and nonverbal communication, and use the structural aspects of language (e.g., vocabulary, syntax, and phonology) to accomplish these goals. For more details, see ASHA’s resources on components of social communication [PDF] and  social communication benchmarks [PDF].

Social communication, spoken language, and written language have an intricate relationship (see figure below). Social communication skills are needed for language expression and comprehension in both spoken and written modalities. Spoken and written language skills allow for effective communication in a variety of social contexts and for a variety of purposes.

Social Communications

Social communication behaviors such as eye contact, facial expressions, and body language are influenced by sociocultural and individual factors (Curenton & Justice, 2004; Inglebret, Jones, & Pavel, 2008). There is a wide range of acceptable norms within and across individuals, families, and cultures. 

Social Communication Disorder

Social communication disorder is characterized by difficulties with the use of verbal and nonverbal language for social purposes. Primary difficulties are in social interaction, social cognition, and pragmatics. Specific deficits are evident in the individual’s ability to

  • communicate for social purposes in ways that are appropriate for the particular social context;
  • change communication to match the context or needs of the listener;
  • follow rules for conversation and storytelling;
  • understand nonliterate or ambiguous language; and
  • understand what is not explicitly stated.

This definition is consistent with the diagnostic criteria for Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder detailed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013).

Social communication disorder can result in far-reaching problems, including difficulty participating in social settings, developing peer relationships, achieving academic success, and performing successfully on the job.  

Social communication disorder may be a distinct diagnosis or may co-occur with other conditions, such as 

In the case of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), social communication problems are a defining feature, along with restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior. Therefore, social communication disorder cannot be diagnosed in conjunction with ASD. 

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.