social communication disorder

Is it social communication disorder or autism?

Posted on
February 21, 2023
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Social communication is at the center of all our interactions. We want our children to be able to develop their social capacities to be able to understand the rules for interacting with others. As well as having the ability to express themselves in the world around them seems to be socially appropriate based on context. For some children, social communication difficulties can develop, impacting their speech and language. Follow along in this blog to understand social communication disorder, it’s symptoms, and if social communication disorder is a form of autism.

What are social communication disorders

Social communication Disorder (SCD) is a disorder that can start showing itself in the younger years of a child. Unlike ASD, which is sometimes hard for practitioners to tease apart, individuals with social communication disorder don’t exhibit “Restrictive and Repetitive Behaviours” that are characterized by:

  1. Fixated interests/”perseveration:” should be viewed with caution because there will be individuals with ASD that have an interest that is often represented in the conversation.
  2. Stereotyped comments/ echolalia
  3. Stereotyped behaviours that can manifest physically (head banging, pacing, watching the same show over and over)

social communication disorder
How to recognize social communication disorder

What are the signs of social communication disorder?

Individuals with social communication disorders do have ongoing social pragmatic difficulties characterized by their use of social language (both verbal and non-verbal) for social purposes. These individuals often struggle with differentiating communication styles that are appropriate for the particular social context.

Social communication disorder symptoms include hindering the ability of the communicator to follow the expected rules of conversation including engaging in reciprocal listening and speaking rules, taking things literally, difficulty with understanding non-literal language or figurative language, and changing their communication style to match that of the listener’s expectations - this can result in using a similar speaking style for both their peers and authority figures. Even at a younger age when a child doesn’t have extensive verbal skills. Toddlers with social communication disorder will have difficulty taking turns (i.e. in games with peers or family members), and using relevant gestures to convey their intentions.

Is SCD a form of autism and how to provide speech therapy services

Although SCD is different from autism, similar interventions can be effective. Speech and language therapy should capitalize on the strengths and interests of the individual with SCD, as this is what motivates them to be social (World Health Organization, 2001).

It is also important to observe them in natural settings and model what you’re noticing in their social interactions in a neutral non-judgmental way. It is crucial that there is attention to thinking about context: people in the environment, the place/setting, and the details and the situation that is occurring. These are all teachable moments for problem-solving and teaching advocacy since context is always changing in the social world, but also it is helpful to provide an environment that minimizes barriers/ reduces triggers that could hinder their participation as a collaborator in their own social communication.

Parent education and involvement cannot be overstated. As part of the therapeutic process, parents need to work collaboratively so they can model the same way of speaking and observing in organic social situations over the weekend when they’re not at school or when they’re at home and engaging in a multitude of activities and interactions. More specifically, social stories (Carol Gray) that elaborate on specific situations and how to navigate them through problem-solving, as well as providing the child with visual supports that represent their favorite characters based on interests can be extremely useful. All of these strategies are portable to the home setting.

Is social communication disorder the same as Aspergers?

Children and adults with Asperger's may show difficulty in understanding language that contains a double meaning or is not straightforward enough. Often what is being said is taken in a literal sense. Whereas, social and communication disorder is when a child and adult have difficulty using both verbal and non-verbal language in social settings.

For more information on what receptive language is, feel free to refer back to our previous blog.

Social communication disorder references

Social Communication Disorder: Information & Treatments | Autism Speaks

Social Communication Disorder (

Autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder) (

Home - Carol Gray - Social Stories (

Sharon Baum
Clinical Director, United States and M.A. CCC-SLP
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