Social Communication in School-Age Children


Expressive Language School Age

So my last post on expressive language disorders was geared towards more intentional, needs-based speech, and ended with spontaneous speech. But it doesn’t really end there, does it? As children grow, their communication needs expand from purely requesting and answering to social communication. A 2-year-old doesn’t necessarily need to know how to ask a friend to play, but a 7-year-old certainly does.

Teaching social communication is complicated, so I’m just going to start at the beginning. Children with autism and expressive language disorders need a basic framework of initiation, maintenance, and conclusion of social communication.

Initiation- the simplest way to teach a child to initiate a conversation is to teach a few key “scripts.” There are several ways to do this, but my personal favorite is to practice a simple starter phrase like, “I have an idea.” You can model this to your child in everyday interactions, practice with dolls in a dollhouse, puppets, basically anything that will expose your child to the phrase and motivate them. If you can tell that they want to say something but aren’t sure how, you can even give them a prompt like, “I can tell you have an idea.” Then when their eyes light up, make sure they say, ” I have an idea!” As the script becomes more ingrained, you can reduce the amount of support you give to have them say it. Eventually this will become an independent behavior, and you better be so excited about it!

Maintenance- Social maintenance is turn-taking. Children must learn the give-and-take of conversations. This can be particularly difficult for children with autism as they tend to focus on one subject, and lack the awareness of social norms. For me, I have found that playing simple games provide the basis for turn-taking. Board games like Candyland, or card games like Go Fish are great starting points. They have a fast turnover rate, and they are fun! It is also important to practice the nonverbal aspect of turn-taking: make sure to practice correct eye contact to indicate when it is time to take a turn. Children with autism and/or expressive language disorder often do not pick up on these nonverbal cues.

You can then start moving it into social situations. If your child initiates a conversation (“I have an idea!”), practice the turn-taking. Remind them to make eye contact. Once again, puppets, dollhouses, paper dolls/Barbies…anything that creates a controllable social situation is going to help practice this.

Teaching maintenance of a social communication is the optimal situation to practice SABOTAGE. I will have a post explaining this in more detail, but purposefully sabotaging a social communication with your child teaches them how to problem-solve before it happens in “real life.”

Finally, teach your child how to conclude a social communication. Once again, I would start with a few key scripts- even something like, ” That’s all I have to say,” or “I have to go” is a direct cue that the conversation is over.

If you need more help with this, I would strongly suggest looking into Social Stories. This is an official resource available to purchase, or you can also just make your own, either in book or video form.

Finally, I would like to link to a fellow SLP blogger, Shannon at Speechy Musings. She has fabulous materials on her blog. Go to her “Materials” link HERE, and then under “Expressive Language” and ” Pragmatics,” you will find lots of great printables! Most are under $5, and they look incredible.

I know this all sounds overwhelming. You just want your child to be able to share their thoughts. I get it, I really do. But this is something that is going to take time, and it’s progress will need to be measured by small victories, not giant leaps.

There are just about as many ways to work on social communication as there are aspects to communication. This little post barely scratches the surface. There is the emotional understanding aspect, the unwritten social rules, the problem-solving aspect, etc. I hope to touch on all of these, but please leave a comment below or email me if you are really struggling with a certain area.