The prevalence of social language impairment is about 7.7% in children of ages 3-17 years. Children with social communication disorder struggle with effective communication. They may not understand when to respond during a conversation.
Others may not know when it’s better for them to keep quiet. Children with social communication disorder (SCD) also lack a good sense of private space. They may not be aware of how close or far to be from a person they’re communicating with.
For a more in-depth understanding of the condition, let’s first define what it is.
What Is Social Communication Disorder?
Social communication disorder is also known as semantic pragmatic or pragmatic language impairment. It’s still a relatively new condition, and some specialists classify it under autism. The symptoms of SCD closely resemble those of autism.
Social communication is more than the spoken word. It encompasses social recognition, non-verbal communication, language processing, and pragmatics. Individuals with SCD struggle with the use of different components of language like syntax and vocabulary.
SCD affects children in three major areas. These are social understanding, social interactions, and pragmatics. The latter refers to the use of language in its proper context.
A child with SCD doesn’t understand the difference in the tone when addressing a baby than an older adult.
Symptoms of Social Communication Disorder
Every child wants to make friends, but some find it hard to fit in. They can take a long time to learn how to make social conversation. Sometimes, getting along with others can be an ongoing challenge.
These are just some of the early warning signs of social communication disorder in a child. Other symptoms include
- Challenges communicating verbally and non-verbally
- Issues in adapting to a specific communication style
- Difficulties in understanding the context of communication
- Problems in relating stories
- Inability to follow social rules
- Avoidance of social situations due to severe anxiety
A child who has SCD will also exhibit signs of delayed milestones right from an early age. Although the delays might emerge early, they might not be diagnosed until later.
How Does SCD Differ from Autism?
In the past, specialists haven’t been able to draw a line between Social Communication Disorder and autism. The symptoms of the two conditions are closely similar. However, for children with autism, there’s repetitive r disruptive behavior like
- Obsessive fixation on routines
- Repeated body movements
- The excessive repeating of sounds
- Sensory sensitivity particularly to sound
- Preoccupation with specific objects
Any disruption to the routine the patient is used to results in outbursts coupled with aggression. Children who were previously diagnosed with autism but didn’t display the above symptoms should be reassessed. The real issue with the children could be social pragmatic communication disorder.
Diagnosis of Social Communication Disorder
As mentioned before, most of the symptoms of SCD overlap with those of other conditions. This in itself complicates diagnosis. It explains why some children were wrongfully diagnosed with autism.
The diagnosis was per the previous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
During the diagnosis of SCD, it’s crucial first to rule out other problems. For example, a hearing assessment can be done to rule out hearing problems. An expert speech and language pathologist should complete hearing assessment.
The tests should take into consideration age, expected stage of development, and cultural norms. The speech specialist should be able to determine if the child can:
- Take turns during conversation
- Answer questions
- Express and describe emotions
- Use gestures appropriately
- Stay on topic
- Adapt to the language and tone of the conversation
- Make and keep friends
The other thing should entail ruling out autism. This is important because of the overlapping symptoms and behavior challenges. However, what’s important to note is that SCD lacks restrictive and repetitive behaviors common in autism.
For example, in autism, a child may feel the need to do things the same way every day. They want to eat the same foods every day or arrange their crayons in a specific way. With social communication disorder, these behaviors are not present.
Treatment of Social Communication Disorder
There isn’t any known cure for SCD, but there are treatment options available. Speech and language pathologists have developed treatment approaches for communication conditions like SCD. They are trained to help children develop communication skills.
The treatment approach used should be specific to an individual. It should focus on functional improvements concerning communication skills. More specifically, the goals of SCD treatment include
- Building independence in communication settings
- Addressing barriers that make social communication difficult
- Facilitating social interaction activities to build new strategies
For more effectiveness in treatment, it’s recommendable to include family members. Therapists may also work together with teachers, special educators, vocational counselors, and psychologists. An all-rounded approach to treatment provides consistent practice for various social situations.
Tools Used in Treatment
Some of the tools used in treatment include augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). This entails supplementing speech with objects, drawing, or pictures. Therapists may also employ computer-based instruction.
It’s useful in teaching vocabulary, social problem solving, and social understanding. Video-based instruction uses video recording to provide a target for expected behavior. Comic book conversations that depict communication between two people are also useful.
Lastly, treatment may also involve social skills groups. These incorporate instruction, feedback with peers, and role-playing. Through the groups, a child is aided to script responses for the initial moments of a conversation.
Social communication disorder is a condition that inhibits a child’s ability to communicate. For a long time, it was misdiagnosed as autism. Recent studies show that there are significant differences between the two conditions.
A child with SCD displays challenges in taking turns in conversions. They are also unable to relate conversation to the context. However, they differ from children with autism in that they don’t show aggression.
In administering treatment for SCD, it’s recommendable to involve the family. Experts like counselors, teachers, and psychologist should also be in the picture. This provides an all-rounded treatment approach that helps a child improve rapidly.
Acceptance of children with SCD and their inclusion in social activities is the first step towards their recovery. If you have any questions about speech therapy and problems, be sure to contact us.