Social Communication Therapy For Children

by Care Speech 
3 February 2022

As children develop, they use verbal and non-verbal communication for a range of purposes including showing, sharing, commenting, questioning, requesting and more.

By watching and participating in social situations every day, children learn how social interactions work.

Children are constantly learning new social communication skills and continue to refine and improve these skills well into adolescence.

Why is it important to have social communication skills?

Social communication skills allow children to successfully communicate their wants and needs with those around them, and to initiate and maintain friendships with peers. This is a critical skill that equips children with the ability to navigate new situations, seek help from others, regulate their emotions, relate to those around them, learn alongside peers, participate in activities, foster emotional wellbeing, and protect against social isolation.

For some children, learning to communicate socially comes naturally. For other children, these skills are harder to learn and may need to be explicitly taught.

Who may benefit from social communication intervention?

Social skills therapy will benefit anyone who has difficulties communicating in social contexts. A social communication disorder can be diagnosed by a Speech Pathologist based on primary difficulties in social interaction, social understanding and/or use of language in social situations. A child with a social communication disorder may have specific difficulties with:

  • Communicating for social purposes or in an appropriate way for the social situation
  • Changing their communication to match the context or the needs of the listener
  • Following rules for conversation and storytelling
  • Understanding non-literate and ambiguous language
  • Understanding what is not explicitly stated

Social communication disorder can be a distinct diagnosis or may co-occur with other diagnoses, such as:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Learning Disability
  • Developmental Language Disorder
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Traumatic Brain Injury

What evidence is there to support social communication intervention?

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for social skills therapy. One-to-one clinician directed intervention is useful for teaching new skills. Group intervention is often used in conjunction with one-to-one services to help to promote generalisation to everyday life. Some common examples of evidence-based social skills interventions are listed below:

Social Stories and Scripts

Social stories are used to help provide direction or appropriate ways to respond in a specific social situation. Social stories have been shown to be significantly effective when used to target behaviour reduction (Kokina & Kern, 2010).

Video Modelling

Video modelling is one of the most effective social skills teaching methods. Video modelling is effective to teach social communication, functional skills and perspective taking (Delano, 2007).

Secret Agent Society

Secret Agent Society is an evidence-based framework for 8 to 12-year-old children with Autism, ADHD, and other social communication difficulties. Secret Agent Society is a program that aims to ‘crack the code’ of emotions and friendships, and it can be facilitated face-to-face or via Telehealth.

Lego Club

Lego Club is a play-based approach to encourage communication and social skills. It is based on the idea that children are given specific jobs in a building task and must work together. Each child adopts the role of either a) engineer, b) parts supplier or c) builder, and collaborates with the other children in the group to achieve their common goal. Lego therapy has mixed evidence in its ability to help children generalise social skills. Some studies have indicated improvements in social interaction, social competence and initiating communication interactions (Lindsay, Hounsell & Cassiani, 2017).

Social Groups

Social skills groups are used to help generalise skills that have been taught in a one-to-one setting. Social skills groups are typically made up of other people that are a similar age and include 1-2 adult facilitators (generally a Speech Pathologist or Occupational Therapist). Social skills groups are effective for generalising social skills that have been taught in one-to-one sessions (Case-Smith J., 2013).

PEERS

PEERS is an evidence-based social skills program for adolescents aged 13-17 years who are interested in making and keeping friends. The adolescents and their designated social coach (usually a parent, caregiver, or family member) attend 18 weekly sessions for 90 minutes each week. Attendees are taught social skills through role-play, social activities, and homework. Their social coach then attends a separate 90-minute session each week where they are provided with additional strategies to assist the student in making friends and generalising other skills learned in the program. The PEERS program can be facilitated either face-to-face or via Telehealth.

How can I help my child with social communication skills outside of therapy?

  1. Discuss ways that you can practice skills that are taught in one-to-one Speech Pathology sessions with your Speech Pathologist. Practice outside of these sessions is critical in helping your child to generalise these skills into everyday life.
  2. Look into local or Telehealth social skills groups. It may be helpful to discuss options that are most suitable for your child with a Speech Pathologist. They will be able to guide you to what content may be most appropriate for them at that point in time.
  3. Play board games that require turn-taking and conversation skills like Guess Who?, Headbanz or Charades. You can adapt these games based on the skills your child is learning at the time (e.g., emotions, body language, asking questions etc.)
  4. Discuss perspective taking when watching a TV show or movie. Press pause and ask your child ‘How do you think X feels right now? What are they thinking?’. Let your child respond and then provide your own answer, ‘I think they feel scared because they are being chased’ or ‘Maybe they feel happy because the rain is stopping, and they can play outside’.
  5. Facilitate friendships by setting up playdates for your child outside of school with likeminded peers. This may be a good opportunity to problem solve in the moment (e.g., sharing, perspective taking etc.)

If you would like to book an initial consultation with a Speech Pathologist from our team, please contact us on 1300 086 280 or at [email protected].

 

References

Case-Smith, J. (2013). Systematic Review of Interventions to Promote Social-Emotional Development of Young Children With or At Risk of Disability. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 67(4), 395-404.

Delano, M. E. (2007). Video Modelling Intervention for Individuals with Autism. Remedial and Special Education, 28 (1), 33-42.

Kokina, A. & Kern, L. (2010). Social Story Interventions for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Meta Analysis. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40 (7), 812-826.

Lindsay, S., Hounsell, K. & Cassiani, C. (2017). A scoping review of LEGO therapy for improving inclusion and social skills among children and youth with autism. Disability and Health Journal, 10(2), 173-182.

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