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Think back to a recent cocktail party you attended with distant relatives or unfamiliar co-workers in a new job setting: Did you dread getting ready for the event? Imagine how young children and adolescents feel at school on the playground when they have difficulty making friends.

We often see that people with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, acquired brain injury, or ADHD may have difficulty with social communication. However, not all people with social communication difficulties have a diagnosis—some may be shy or have social anxiety. Speech-language pathologists (S-LPs) play a very big role in assessing and treating people with social communication difficulties.

Rooted at the center of all our interactions lies the foundation of communication: to flourish academically, to build successful friendships, to develop professional relationships, and to create intimate bonds with our partners. However, the fundamental requirements of successful social communication are far from basic. One must have the motivation to interact, be aware of their surroundings and how to modify them appropriately (eliminate distractions), recognize their own intentions, and have the flexibility to shift perspectives. One must also understand the “hidden” social conventions appropriate to different contexts, and formulate their response in an organized manner.

An S-LP works with individuals works with individuals who have difficulties with social communication using a one-on-one direct speech therapy model or through group speech therapy programs.

For young children we look at skills such as eye contact, turn-taking, making requests, and calling people by their names. There are many techniques and methods that an S-LP can use to teach children these skills that are very important for communication. If you have difficulty with the back and forth of communication (turn-taking), it will be difficult to have a dynamic relationship with another person.

In all our offices we offer parent training to support our therapy so that techniques can be continued in the home environment. You can start increasing your child’s communicative ability by:

-Anticipating topics and/or vocabulary, which allows you to prepare ahead of time and thus increase your social confidence. For example, if you or your child is going to a sports event, research about the teams, rules, and scores in advance. Alternately, if you will be attending a work conference, read about the lectures ahead of time and familiarize yourself with the content of the day.
-Using ice breakers that you find helpful in starting conversations, such as “It’s a beautiful day today” or “How is your day going?”

-Practicing the tricky skill of making small talk. You can do this in the car on the way to an appointment, in a coffee shop, or even at the dinner table.

-Using surrounding context to guide the conversation, especially when stuck on what to say next to keep the interaction going. For example, if you or your child are at a baseball game, comment on their favourite player, or if you are at a wedding, comment on the bride and groom or the food.

-Asking appropriate questions about topics that the other person may be interested in.

-Listening and learning not to interrupt, which is a very important skill taught in therapy.

If you are concerned about someone’s social communication skills, speak with a speech-language pathologist for additional suggestions, recommendations, and/or strategies. To learn more about The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada and our speech-language pathology services in Toronto and the surrounding areas, including our groups for social communication treatment, visit our site today or contact us to reserve a spot in our next group session.