Social communication allows individuals to communicate or interact with others within a societal framework. Social communication encompasses social interaction, social cognition, pragmatics, and language processing. Variations for societal norms exist across and within cultures. Analysis of social communication considers the norms that are relevant to an individual in their communication environment(s) as opposed to imposing a singular set of standard social norms.
Clinicians engage in culturally responsive practice to learn more about the individual’s communication needs. Cultural variability is balanced by a universal goal of having social communication effectively meet the individual’s goals or developmental needs (Rose-Krasnor, 1997). For example, communication across power differences may vary culturally, but the communicator is still either effective or ineffective at fulfilling the purpose of their communication. Please see ASHA’s Practice Portal page on Social Communication Disorder for further details.
Different terms may be used to describe social communication throughout this document due to evolving terminology. This is particularly true of references written prior to 2013, when the American Psychiatric Association classified social (pragmatic) communication disorder as a disorder. Although the terminology used may differ, information may still be relevant and considered.
Social interaction is communication that occurs between at least two individuals. Rules of social interaction may vary significantly across cultures, communities, and physical environments. The following variations may occur:
The necessary abilities to facilitate a successful social interaction include the following:
Social understanding involves acquiring social knowledge about one’s and others’ mental actions (social cognition) and using this knowledge to plan, guide, and flexibly respond (executive function) to social interactions within a cultural or societal context (Carpendale & Lewis, 2006; Lewis & Carpendale, 2014).
Key abilities related to social cognition include the following:
Please note that ToM is a complex topic, and a full discussion of ToM is outside the scope of this document. Please see Westby and Robinson (2014) for further information.
Pragmatics is an area of social communication that focuses on goal-consistent language use in social contexts (Nelson, 2010). It is the set of rules that individuals follow when using language in conversation and other social settings. Culturally responsive practice seeks to understand pragmatic norms specific to the student, client, or patient. Pragmatics includes both verbal and nonverbal communication.
Language processing is an area of social communication that regards internal generation of language (expressive) as well as understanding and interpretation of language (receptive). It is the transfer of thoughts and feelings into a means of expressive communication (i.e., spoken, written, signed) and the understanding and interpretation of language.
Carpendale, J., & Lewis, C. (2006). How children develop social understanding. Blackwell Publishing.
Grice, H. P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole & J. L. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and semantics, Vol. 3: Speech acts (pp. 41–58). Academic Press
Hoff, E. (2014). Language development (5th ed.). Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Lewis, C., & Carpendale, J. (2014). Social cognition. In P. K. Smith & C. H. Hart (Eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of childhood social development (2nd ed., pp. 531–548). Wiley-Blackwell.
Nelson, N. (2010). Language and literacy disorders: Infancy through adolescence. Allyn & Bacon.
Rose-Krasnor, L. (1997). The nature of social competence: A theoretical review. Social Development, 6(1), 111–135. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9507.1997.tb00097.x
Westby, C., & Robinson, L. (2014). A developmental perspective for promoting theory of mind. Topics in Language Disorders, 34(4), 362–382. https://doi.org/10.1097/TLD.0000000000000035
Nelson, K. (1978). How children represent knowledge of their world in and out of language: A preliminary report. In R. S. Siegler (Ed.), Children’s thinking: What develops? (pp. 255–273). Erlbaum.
Timler, G. R., Olswang, L. B., & Coggins, T. E. (2005). Social communication interventions for preschoolers: Targeting peer interactions during peer group entry and cooperative play. Seminars in Speech and Language, 26(3), 170–180. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-2005-917122