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Social Communication

Social communication is how and why we use language to interact with other people. There are many reasons why someone might have trouble with social communication. Speech-language pathologists, or SLPs, can help. To find an SLP near you, visit ProFind.

About Social Communication

We all make decisions about communication based on where we are, who is around us, and why we are communicating. We learn how to make these decisions by being taught directly (like being told to say “please” when asking for something) and through experience (like noticing when someone isn’t interested in what you’re talking about). The ability to make communication decisions like these is called social communication.

We learn unwritten rules of social communication from our families, friends, and community. There isn’t a right or a wrong way to communicate, but over time, we learn how to adjust what or how we say something.

Knowing and using these rules makes communication easier. We hardly ever have to think about the rules once we’ve figured them out. Everyone is a little different from each other, but some people may have trouble learning and using these rules. If social communication problems are getting in their way, an SLP can help.

Social Communication Skills

If someone has trouble using the social communication skills listed below, an SLP might be able to help if the person or their family would like to work with them. There are three major skills involved in social communication:

  1. Using language for different reasons, such as
    • greeting (saying “Hello” or “Good-bye”);
    • informing (saying “I’m going to get a cookie”)
    • demanding (saying “Give me a cookie right now!”);
    • promising (saying “I’m going to get you a cookie.”); or
    • requesting (saying “I want a cookie, please.”).
  1. Changing language for the listener or situation, such as
    • communicating differently to a baby than to an adult or a friend;
    • giving more information to someone who does not know the topic;
    • knowing to skip some details when someone already knows the topic; or
    • communicating differently in a public place than at home.
  1. Following rules for conversations and storytelling, such as
    • taking turns being a talker and being a listener;
    • letting others know the topic when you start talking;
    • staying on topic;
    • trying another way of saying what you mean when someone did not understand you;
    • using gestures and body language, like pointing or shrugging;
    • knowing how close to stand to someone when talking; or
    • using facial expressions and eye contact.

Every culture—and even every family—can have its own set of rules. Even different groups of friends might have their own set of rules. These rules are usually not written down, so it can be difficult to know how to act in different situations.

How Can SLPs Help?

SLPs work with children and adults who have difficulty with social communication by supporting communication with others in various places such as at home, at school, or at work. SLPs might work with someone one-on-one or in a group. Below are some examples of social communication in action that SLPs may help someone practice:

  • Saying “hello” or some other greeting to help jump into a conversation
  • Using different forms of language that match the situation, like requesting to borrow something from a friend instead of demanding it
  • Knowing when and how to change the conversational topic
  • Understanding the meaning of expressions like “it’s raining cats and dogs”
  • Understanding sarcasm, or how to use sarcasm correctly
  • Understanding humor and making jokes

Remember, these are just examples—the ways we communicate with others are so complicated that it’s impossible to put them all in one list. A hearing screening may be performed to better understand hearing levels, and the results may help the SLP tailor their treatment to the person’s individual communication needs.  

To find an SLP near you, visit ProFind.

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