@theretreatyork5 July 2020
Happy 72nd birthday to our incredible @NHSEngland 📸 and a huge thank you to all the staff and volunteers that have worked selflessly during unprecedented time 👏👏 #clapforNHS #NHSBirthday #NHSheroes https://t.co/eammu5BrTc
Communicating and socialising with others can often be challenging for children on the autism spectrum. There can also be a huge variability in the way autistic children communicate and interact with others.
While some children on the autism spectrum may have no spoken language and find initiating interactions very challenging, others may have strong verbal language skills. Successful social communication is a complex process, supported by the foundations of language skills, social-cognitive skills (including understanding the perspective and knowledge of the listener) and executive function (the mental ability to plan, act and solve problems).
It is commonly accepted that difficulties, or differences with social communication and interaction, are a common feature for people on the autism spectrum and forms part of the diagnostic criteria outlined in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
Social communication also termed pragmatics, describes the way we use language in social contexts and interactions with others. It involves the ability to share our thoughts and feelings with others and respond when others share their thoughts and feelings with us.
Social communication relies on an individual’s ability to use and understand a range of verbal (speaking and listening) and non-verbal communication skills (eye contact; body language; gestures; facial expressions; posture; use of space; tone of voice).
Communication by its nature, is a two-way process. We can support children with social communication difficulties by not only teaching them how to learn social communication skills, but by adapting our own communication to acknowledge and respect their differences. For example, through allowing a child on the autism spectrum additional time to respond in a conversation, providing clear instructions and giving praise.
It is important to encourage and support your child to practice the social communication skills they are learning with different people and in different environments.
Discussions with your child’s school, can also support the generalisation of the social communication skills they are practising. Teaching staff can support and develop with your child any strategies they are using, such as prompt cards or social stories.
Speech and Language Therapists are specialists in social communication and can offer assessment and interventions. Goals for intervention should be planned jointly with children and tailored to their individual needs. There are a range of structured intervention programmes and approaches, that have been developed to support the teaching of social communication and interaction skills to children on the autism spectrum. A Speech and Language Therapist may recommend a combination of approaches, to find the best support to meet the individual needs of the child.
Approaches such as the Talkabout programmes, developed by Alex Kelly and the Social Thinking programme, created by Michelle Garcia Winner, provide advice and guidance for parents and professionals. There are group interventions designed for parents, such as the Hanen – More Than Words programme and group interventions to support children and young people on the autism spectrum. For example, Lego Therapy and SocialEyes – developed by the National Autistic Society.
Research into the effectiveness of social communication interventions is growing. Available evidence suggests that social communication intervention programmes can be beneficial for children on the autism spectrum. However, a common limitation discussed, is the ability of children to generalise social communication skills they are learning in the therapy setting, to different environments and with different people.
Accessing support at the ideal frequency and time can be challenging for families and may vary across different locations and trusts. Families can contact their local NHS speech and language therapy services, or private therapy practices, for advice and guidance.
Social communication is a complex process, involving verbal and non-verbal communication skills and an understanding of the rules of social interaction. Social communication is recognised as challenging for all children on the autism spectrum. Strategies and interventions, to support the development of social communication skills can be effective. Collaborative working between families, therapists, and teaching staff, can support a child to generalise skills being learnt across environments.