SOCIAL LANGUAGE: WHEN SOCIAL CUES ARE NOT INTUITIVE
Updated: Mar 14, 2020
There are so many subtle and more obvious social cues most of us understand and express with others easily and without much thinking. Consider "reading" facial expressions when a friend (or a complete stranger) is experiencing a particular emotion such as happiness, excitement, anger, disappointment, or boredom. Often we don't even need to hear words to understand how another feels. All we need to do is to look at the face and interpret the emotions.
There are many neuroimaging studies that claim that humans develop this ability to "read" others naturally; it appears that most of us are just socially wired to be great communicators. In fact even very young children learn to pick up on social cues super early, without any direct instruction, and way before words come into play. For example, most typically developing infants begin to differentiate a happy face from a frown before their first birthday. Cool? We think so!
However, for some children (and adults!) this area of communication- nonverbal signaling is not as intuitive. In fact children that are on the Autism Spectrum Disorder or those presenting with sensory processing challenges often have great difficulty connecting with people's faces and interpreting nonverbal cues communicated via facial expressions and moods. For these children, using their social mind takes work and often social language therapy. If left untreated, eventually, difficulties also show up in verbal communication- with conversational skills.
Understanding how to initiate communication appropriately (and timely) with a particular listener, knowing how to reciprocate and keep the conversation going, how and when to ask follow up questions, offer a thoughtful and relevant comment, or being able to end a conversation can be an area of uncertainty and even anxiety for children with social language (or social pragmatic) deficits. In fact many parents may even report defiant or aggressive behaviors in these children and not without a reason. All too often those with poor social attention and social language skills have a hard time making friends, sharing play space/toys with others, understanding peer's wants and intentions, as well as communicating their own needs and wants efficiently and meaningfully.
To make matters worse, many of these children also struggle with literacy based tasks in school as social language is deeply embedded into literacy and overall academic curriculum. Children read stories they don't understand because they can't relate to content read; they can't interpret the meaning or the function of what the character says in a story or they have difficulty making inferences to figure out the main idea or even the next logical step in how the story develops. See how language is the very foundation of both relating and overall learning?
Social language therapy can help a child with social language challenges make real gains and reap benefits that will lay foundation for all future learning and successful communicative interactions with others. Social language therapy often helps reduce or completely eliminate challenging behaviors because it equips the child with (language) tools to become a better "reader" of others and to communicate more effectively. Share this post with friends who may need this information. Spread awareness of importance of social language and available resources to help shape the much needed socialization skills.