Social communication involves knowing how to adapt our style of communication to match the situation we’re in.   Many of these skills are culturally based and are learnt by observation, trial, error and experience. As with other areas of development, social skills usually develop in a typical sequence so it’s important to remember that children will only be able to behave in a way which is appropriate for their stage of development.

Examples of social communication include:

  • Tone of voice, appropriate volume
  • Turn – taking
  • Laughter and understanding humour
  • Awareness of others, looking at the person who is communicating
  • Seeking interaction, looking to another for a response
  • Enjoying interaction and attention
  • Responding to and being aware of the feelings of others
  • Awareness of personal space
  • Knowing how to start, maintain and finish the interaction
  • Understanding and using body language/gesture/facial expression
  • Being flexible in using and adapting language to suit different situations
  • Being able to ask if you don’t understand what’s been said

How can we identify children’s social communication difficulties?

It’s important to assess and monitor every child’s development regularly.  Early identification of difficulties and appropriate intervention means the child’s self – esteem remains high and they have a much better chance of reaching their potential. The following documents can help but remember that every child is different and they will not all develop in the same way.

When you have concerns about a child’s social communication, it’s important to:

  • Consider the child’s previous experiences
  • Check that they’ve had a recent hearing test
  • Discuss your concerns with colleagues and parents
  • Check that your expectations are realistic
  • Consider your session routine, environment and how all practitioners interact with the children
  • Complete a developmental assessment and further observations

Ways to support children with social communication difficulties:

  • Model the skills as you play alongside children and give them the words and strategies they need to initiate social communication. For example “You could say, can I play?” or “You could say, please can I have a turn?”
  • Give specific praise to children such as “You waited your turn really well” or “Thank you for listening very carefully.”
  • Work in partnership with parents/carers and find out what interests the child so you can plan enjoyable experiences for them within your setting.
  • Set up opportunities for turn-taking with marble runs, pulling jigsaw pieces out of a bag, blowing bubbles, playing skittles with one ball, opening the flaps on a favourite book. Begin with the child’s key person then introduce another child who will provide a patient role model
  • Reduce the number of questions you ask as this can put pressure on the child to respond, aim for a ratio of four comments to each question
  • Many children with social communication difficulties will find it difficult to express how they are feeling so name emotions as they occur. For example “Ben is feeling happy because he’s looking at his favourite book” or “Bilal is feeling sad because he has to wait for his turn on the bike.”   Also use books and favourite television or film characters to discuss emotions.
  • Children with social communication difficulties are often very anxious because they don’t understand what’s expected of them. You can reduce their anxiety by introducing a visual timetable. Further information is available from the national charity ICAN.
  • Plan transitions carefully, ensuring you share any useful strategies with the next room or setting staff. If possible, take photographs of staff, indoor and outdoor environments for parents to share with the child at home.

By working in partnership with parents and using a range of tools to assess and monitor a child’s development, we can identify a child’s social communication difficulties and use their interests to plan experiences that meet their needs.  Every child is unique and we always need to consider their previous experiences and support all aspects of their development within our setting.  Plan all transitions carefully, sharing effective strategies with colleagues or new staff; this will mean that the child continues to make progress and their self-esteem remains high.  You really do make a difference!

About the author

me2Kathryn is a specialist early years teacher and trainer who has worked with children for nearly 25 years, including 10 years as an Area SENCO. She is an ELKLAN Speech and Language Trainer and regularly writes and delivers courses for early years practitioners on all aspects of SEND.  You can follow her on Twitter @kathrynstinton, find her on Facebook or visit her website for more information.




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