Social Difficulties/Pragmatic Disorder

Social language skills can be described as the way in which we communicate verbally and non-verbally with the world around us. These skills are important because they form the basis of all human interaction and the foundation on which caring relationships are built.

Some examples of social language skills include:

  • Posture and body language

  • Facial expressions

  • Maintaining appropriate proximity to a speaker

  • Maintaining eye contact and attention

  • Staying on topic

  • Taking turns appropriately in a conversation

  • Appropriate listening behaviors

  • Humour

  • Figurative language

  • Asking and answering questions appropriately

Many of these skills come naturally to most people. For others, these skills need to be developed and refined to ensure effective communication is achieved.

When a child does not have developed or appropriate social language skills, they may become increasingly isolated. Fearing rejection, teasing or bullying, they may avoid social situations.

Difficulties with Social Skills Across the Ages


Most social difficulties for many children can be identified in early childhood or even infancy. Some of the earliest signs are:

  • Limited eye contact

  • Responding to their name

  • Sharing attention

  • Difficulties with imitating

These above signs can become worse and children might shy away from social situations or avoid them all together. On the other hand, some signs may go undetected because they are similar to the behaviours seen in typically developing children going through the regular tantrums or being defiant.


For children who are unable to access early social intervention, the problems tend to develop as their social demands increase. They often have limited play skills and show little interest in playing with friends. Or, if there is an interest in engaging with other children, they may not have the appropriate skills to:

  • Initiate play

  • Respond to the play invitations to other children

  • Or to learn play through observations of other children

  • Attempts at social interaction is immature

When they do have friends, their friends tend to be very accommodating children who adjust to their need to control play. Difficulties with social skills and maintaining friendships as they get older can be very challenging given that typical children become less accepting of the one-sided nature of these friendships.


As children with autism age and move into high school, they continue to have difficulties with social skills and are likely to feel isolated from their peers. Schools often try to create an environment for acceptance and inclusion to help increase the potential for friendships. Often those who have high language abilities may have great self-awareness of their differences and a greater motivation to want to fit in. But, that being said, teens by this point may have faced social rejection and are more comfortable communicating with adults who encourage them in their specific interests or spend more time on their own.

Speech-Language Pathologists are highly educated professionals, trained to identify and treat such challenges. If you have a child who needs some assistance in this area, the clinicians at S.L. Hunter & Associates would be pleased to help. Intervention may initially involve one-on-one intervention and as skills are developed the child is given the opportunity to practice using these skills in a group setting.

Related therapies to treat this condition:

Communication Intermediary Services

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More Than Words - The Hanen Program®

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Social Skills Groups

At S.L. Hunter SpeechWorks, we support the importance of social skills development with our clients of all ages.

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Social Thinking Groups®

Social Thinking ® is a unique group opportunity based on the work of Michelle Garcia-Winner.

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