The Face of Friendship – Strategies to Improve Social Communication Skills
If you have a child with a social communication disorder, one of the most wonderful sights can be seeing that child connect with a friend – have a conversation, share a joke, or just enjoy playing together in the park. These usually commonplace activities for young friends don’t always come so easily. Social communication disorders are often associated with dual diagnoses, such as ADHD, hearing loss, Autism, and learning disorders. While this can make the actual diagnoses of a social communication disorder more challenging, it does not remove the need for kids to learn the skills needed to communicate with peers, teachers, family members, and the people they encounter in their community.
What Is Social Communication?
Broadly speaking, social communication is the sending and receiving of messages through a combination of strategies, including:
- Eye contact
- Facial expressions
- Social and cultural norms
- Speech patterns
Kids who struggle with social communication are often seen as awkward, unique, or even as loners. They just seem to have more trouble making friends, holding engaged conversations, and participating in social settings than their peers who don’t have social communication disorders. These kids with social communication disorders might be those who represent the stereotypical child alone at the lunch table, picked last for the kickball team, or the one who didn’t get the invitation to the sleepover. So we can imagine that social communication disorders can be the sources of anxiety, frustration, and isolation, but how can we help these kids to improve their social communication skills?
Tools to Build Social Communication Skills
While the first recourse for parents who believe their child has a social communication disorder is to work with healthcare providers and SLPs, there are also strategies parents can use in the home to target specific aspects of social communication.
Play charades with only facial expressions. Reading and making facial expressions is an important part of social communication. Play a game of charades with only facial expressions for various emotions and reactions, taking turn with your child to make a face or interpret a face.
Use The New Social Story Book, by Carol Gray. While this is targeted for kids with autism, it can be a Use social stories to help children understand the emotions of the characters who are struggling with social communication skills. The book includes more than 150 stories that help children learn skills needed for social interactions.
Read Easy Stories for Social Skills, available through Academic Communication Associates, Inc. This is a spiral bound books that uses worksheets and stories to reinforce ideas such as paying attention, expressing emotions, and using telephone manners (geared for ages 4-8).
Incorporate video modeling programs. Services such as Watch Me Learn use video modeling to teach social skills to children. It can be effective for visual learners and can be used in therapy sessions or within the home.
Teach about facial expressions with apps like VolaFriends. This inexpensive app can be used even by toddlers to help them learn to recognize the emotions behind human expressions, an important part of social communication.
Use stickers for eye contact. Kids with disorders such as autism find it much harder to make eye contact during conversations. These stickers help remind kids where to focus their eyes when practicing conversations skills.
Social communication skills are integral for forming relationships and engaging with the people in the community. Kids who struggle with language or behavior disorders often also have some degree of dual diagnoses of social communication disorders. Those aspects of communication that seem natural to us – eye contact, understanding that a raised eyebrow means a questioning thought, etc. – can seem like foreign languages for these children. However, working with teachers, SLPs, and family members, kids can utilize these tools and many others to build those necessary social communication skills.