pragmatic language

Discovering pragmatic language with a qualified speech therapist

Posted on
March 2, 2023
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Pragmatic language is the way we communicate with the world around us using unwritten social rules, and this form of language starts to develop just as early as any other form of language - when a child is born! Discover pragmatic language disorder with our qualified speech therapist, Sharon Baum, in this blog.

What is Pragmatic Language?

Pragmatic language is the ability to process social information to understand and express oneself. It is a form of language that enables individuals to seek out social interactions, participate in them, and fix communication breakdowns that disrupt the social process.

As toddlers start to seek out social interactions they begin to follow the rules of pragmatic language. In their earlier interactions, they use eye contact and body language to reflect their intent.

What are examples of pragmatic language?

  1. Using nonverbal cues, such as body language, eye contact, and gestures to express feelings and intent
  2. Actively listening to others when they communicate with you
  3. Understanding humor in the broader context of non-literal language
  4. Being able to think about a problem and how to solve it to attain a desired outcome
  5. Being able to stay on topic in conversation with others
  6. Monitoring interruption of others/waiting for a speaker to finish their idea before speaking
  7. Joins others in play and other activities

What are pragmatic language skills

Pragmatic skills incorporate both the way one understands the communication of others (receptive pragmatic language), and the way one use communication skills in social interactions (expressive pragmatic language). Specifically, individuals with a pragmatic language disorder will often exhibit challenges in some or all of the following areas: unwritten social rules/pragmatic skills.

  1. Understanding and using the non-literal meaning of phrases in both conversations, when reading and writing.
  2. Have difficulty exiting and entering a conversation.
  3. Have difficulty engaging in reciprocal play when younger – that involved turn-taking and reciprocal conversation – taking turns during conversation when they get older.
  4. Problem-solving or thinking about alternate solutions to problems to avoid potential communication breakdowns with peers.
  5. Difficulty understanding their own triggers and advocating on behalf of what they need to reduce these triggers.
  6. Difficulty with suprasegmental aspects of speech ( volume, pitch, prosody). Sometimes. A unique intonational pattern can appear in an infant’s babbling that just doesn’t sound “right.”
  7. Difficulty using body language and gestures to match the individual’s intent.
  8. Difficulty adjusting communication style according to context (ie. teacher vs. peer; class vs. being present at sports game).

pragmatic language
Problem-solving and turn-taking skills

What is pragmatic language in Autism?

Many individuals with SCD (social communication disorder) don’t exhibit the common repetitive and restrictive behaviors of individuals with ASD:

  1. stereotypical behaviors/statements
  2. perseverations/ fixed interests
  3. physical behaviors that can be repetitive – ie. banging of the head repeatedly when frustrated.

Individuals with ASD also exhibit difficulty with the pragmatic language skills discussed earlier but these 3 characteristics differentiate those with ASD from those who have SCD.

How can I help my child that exhibits pragmatic language difficulties?

With the support of the speech therapist and classroom teacher, model social thinking that is not organic for them. If you provide them with a safe space that allows them to listen to your observations of their actions – an antecedent event that can lead to an undesirable outcome, they can learn about problem-solving. Additionally, visual supports that incorporate their interests can help them develop their social thinking as they can relate to their favorite characters in their favorite video game (for example) in a social story that capitalizes on what would have happened to a specific character if they would have interrupted during battle… Talking through situations without judgment and speaking about them neutrally is of utmost importance.

If my child has pragmatic language issues, is it likely that he/she will have other language issues?

It has been reported in the research that individuals with pragmatic language also have a variety of language issues, as the two end up overlapping. Individuals with pragmatic language will naturally have challenges accessing the curriculum due to the side effects of pragmatic language difficulties. This can co-occur with difficulty with comprehension: specifically demonstrating an understanding of character intent and motivation, answering questions related to specific personalities/characters of individuals in stories based on their actions and the way they are perceived by others, as well as initiating and organizing ideas using appropriate sentence structure while staying on topic.

Pragmatic language resources

Social Communication

A novel online assessment of pragmatic and core language skills: An attempt to tease apart language domains in children

Nordquist, Richard. "Pragmatics Gives Context to Language." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020

Debbie Cohen
Speech and Language Therapist
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How is pragmatic language identified?
Pragmatic language is identified through unwritten social rules when communicating with those around us. As children, we can identify pragmatic language through early interactions using body language and eye contact to reflect meaning.
Which skills fall part of pragmatic language?
Non-verbal skills include body language, gestures, and eye contact when expressing themselves. Actively listening to others when they speak to you and understanding humor in a non-literal way. Being able to problem-solve and join in on play with other children.
What is pragmatic language in autism?
Individuals with autism may present difficulty with standard pragmatic skills and additionally, show repetitive and restrictive behaviors when communicating with others.