Another area of language that comes under the purview of Speech and Language Therapy is the function of language. Otherwise known as Pragmatics or Social Communication. This is a system that combines language components in functional and socially appropriate communication. Pragmatic language involves three major skills.

Using language for different purposes such as:

  • Greeting (Hello. Goodbye. How are you?)
  • Informing (I am leaving.)
  • Demanding (Say “Good-bye.” Pick up the toy.)
  • Stating (I am going to the playground.)
  • Requesting (Do you want to go along?)

Changing language according to the listener or the situation, such as:

  • Talking to a teacher versus talking to a baby
  • Speaking in a classroom versus talking in the cafeteria
  • Talking about family to another family member versus a stranger

Following rules for conversation, such as:

  • Taking turns while talking
  • Introducing new topics
  • Staying on topic
  • Continuing the same topic as the other speaker
  • Re-wording when misunderstood
  • Using and understanding nonverbal signals (facial expression, eye contact, etc.)
  • Respecting personal space

What causes a pragmatic language disorder?

Although a specific cause of a pragmatic language disorder is not known, the problem is related to dysfunction of the language centers of the brain. Difficulty with pragmatic language can exist on its own, in combination with other language problems, or as part of another diagnosis such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What are the characteristics of social communication (pragmatic) disorder?

Children with social communication (pragmatic) disorder may demonstrate a general language delay. They may have trouble understanding the meaning of what others are saying. They may also have difficulty using language appropriately to get their needs met and to interact with others. In addition, children with social communication (pragmatic) have trouble using language socially. As a result, they have difficulty joining in on social play, working with others at school, or just interacting appropriately with peers. Because of these difficulties, they may appear rude at times, and they may have difficulty keeping friends.

Why is social communication (pragmatics) important?

Social communication (pragmatics) is important in order to be able to build social relationships with other people. It is also important academically, as many curriculum based activities rely on working in groups and communication between peers.

What are some signs?

Your child may: - not understand that we take turns when we talk. - not be able to read the nonverbal cues that the listener sends. - not realize that the listener has no background knowledge of their topic. - not stay on the topic. Therefore, the child may say inappropriate or unrelated things during a conversation. - not understand the importance of giving enough background information. Therefore, the child may say something like “He did it the other day” without any reference to whom or what he is talking about. - not understand abstract language. Therefore, the child may not understand riddles, jokes or figures of speech. - not be able to understanding the main idea in a conversation, story, or direction.

What are the building blocks necessary to develop social communication (pragmatics)?

  • Receptive (understanding) language: Comprehension of language.
  • Expressive (using) language:The use of language through speech, sign or alternative forms of communication to communicate wants, needs, thoughts and ideas.
  • Pre-language skills: The ways in which we communicate without using words and include things such as gestures, facial expressions, imitation, joint attention and eye-contact.
  • Executive functioning: Higher order reasoning and thinking skills.
  • Self regulation: The ability to obtain, maintain and change one’s emotion, behaviour, attention and activity level appropriate for a task or situation in a socially acceptable manner.

What is the treatment for social communication (pragmatic) disorder?

Speech therapy is often needed for the treatment ofsocial communication (pragmatic) disorder. The speech-language pathologist can be a great coach for pragmatic language skills. He or she will assess the child, and then formulate goals that are individualized to meet the child’s specific needs. Because social communication skills are often the concern, group therapy is often recommended so that therapy can be done in real communication situations.