What is Social Communication?

Social communication, also known as pragmatic skills are the way in which children use language within social situations.

Social communication is made up of three important aspects including:

  • The ability to use language for different purposes (to greet others, story telling, ask questions, request).
  • The ability to change language to meet the needs of the listener or conversation situation (talking differently to a baby versus an adult or talking louder when there is lots of noise or using simpler vocabulary to help someone understand you).
  • The ability to follow the “rules” of language and storytelling (taking appropriate turns in conversations, making eye contact, keeping an appropriate distance from the conversation partner, using facial expressions and gestures).

It is important to remember that the rules of conversation are often different across cultures, within cultures and within different families. It is part of social communication for the conversational partners to quickly understand the rules of the person with whom they are communicating and adapt accordingly.

Children with a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified) have difficulties with social communication.

The typical stages of development of social communication are as follows:



0-18 months 1  Brings objects to an adult to show them.

2  Tries to gain attention by using sounds and gestures,

3  Waves to say hello or goodbye or says the word “bye”.

4  Requests things using gestures, sounds or words (e.g. reaches for the biscuits in the cupboard).

5  Protests by shaking head, vocalizing or pushing an object away.

6  Comments on an object or action by getting the adult’s attention, pointing, or saying a word (pointing to the dog and saying “woof woof” with the intention of showing the dog to the adult).

7  Looks at the speaker or responds with a facial expression, vocal approximation or words when someone speaks.

18 months – 2 years •   Uses words or short phrases for various language functions (e.g. greeting: “hello”, “bye bye”,“no”, “mine”; making a statement: “ball blue”; giving a direction: saying “ball” while pointing for you to get the ball).

•   Uses phrases like “What’s that?” to get attention.

•   Names things in front of other people.

•   Engages in verbal turn taking.

2 – 3.5 years •   Can take on the role of another person within play.

•   Engages in a greater number of turns within interactions with others.

•   Begins to recognize the needs of other people and will speak differently to a baby versus an adult.

•   Acknowledges their communication partner’s messages by saying things like “yeah”, or “ok”

•   Begins using language for pretend play.

•   Requests permission to do things

•   Begins to correct others.

•   Is able to engage in simple story telling and is beginning to make guesses at what might happen in a story (inferencing).

4 – 5 years •   Can use terms correctly, such as ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘here’ and ‘there’.

•   Uses language to discuss emotions and feelings more regularly.

•   Uses indirect requests (e.g. “I’m hungry” to request food).

•  Narration is developing and the child can describe a sequence of events (“The man is on the horse and he is going to jump over the fence and then he is going to go home”).

5 – 6 years •   The ability to tell stories develops and the child is now able to tell a story with a central character and a logical sequence of events

•   May praise others (“Well done, you did it”).

•   Beginning to be able to make promises (e.g. “I promise I will do it tomorrow”).


-Mallory Varrone, MACF-SLP, TSSLD

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