If you have a loved one who is currently in speech therapy, or if you are considering speech therapy for your child, it's important to understand the pragmatic goals that drive this type of treatment. Pragmatic goals involve improving communication skills in social contexts, and they can be essential for helping people with language disorders connect with others and fully participate in life. In this post, we'll discuss what pragmatic goals are and how they help people with speech disorders. We'll also explore some of the challenges associated with achieving these goals. If you're interested in learning more about speech therapy, this post is a great place to start.
But first, what is pragmatics?
Pragmatic language or also called social language involves understanding and using words in different ways depending on the situation. When working on pragmatic language, there are a few things to consider. What is the child’s age? What level is his or her language development? Does he or she have specific communication needs? And what are their social skills like? We got you! We will be discussing pragmatics in communication and give five helpful examples of social stories and social situations that you can do on the go!
Pragmatic Language is the use of language for communication.
Pragmatic language also includes nonverbal communication, such as body language, eye contact, and tone of voice, as well as the ability to adjust the use of words to meet the needs of the listener or situation.
Pragmatics in communication is as important as receptive and expressive language development as they are essential for effective communication for children to build relationships with others, follow rules in social settings, and be successful in school.
Pragmatic language starts at birth.
In infants, the ability to use pragmatics in communication starts early understanding the intonation (e.g., happy or sad) and facial expressions of the people around them (Bates, Camaioni, & Volterra, 1975).
By 12 months old, babies can produce different cries for different purposes and they start to understand simple words like “mama” and “dada” (Dore, 1986).
At 18 months old, toddlers are beginning to use gestures along with words to communicate their needs (“more,” “all gone,” etc.) and they are also starting to understand social rules such as taking turns during conversations.
By 24 months old, children are continuing to develop their pragmatic skills by using more complex language, such as asking questions, and using words to request information (“what’s that?”). They are also beginning to follow social rules more consistently, such as waiting their turn during conversations.
Social pragmatic goals are also important!
It is evident that social pragmatic skills develop rapidly in the first few years of life. However, some children may need extra support to develop these skills. If you are concerned about your child’s pragmatic development, please consult with a speech-language pathologist or another professional for an evaluation.
Who has difficulties in social pragmatics?
While the exact cause of social communication disorder is unknown, research suggests that it may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In some cases, social communication disorder may be the result of another condition with the following diagnoses:
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD): Most children with ASD have social pragmatic difficulties. In fact, this is one of the main characteristics used to diagnose ASD.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Many children with ADHD also have social pragmatic difficulties. Symptoms such as not being able to take turns in conversation or not being able to understand nonverbal communication can make social interactions difficult for these children.
Specific language impairment (SLI): Some children with SLI have social pragmatic difficulties, especially those who have difficulty with understanding and using nonverbal communication.
Apraxia: Children with apraxia often have social pragmatic difficulties because they may have trouble using the right words for the situation or they may say the wrong thing.
Cerebral palsy: Social pragmatic difficulties are common in children with cerebral palsy. This may be due to difficulty understanding and using nonverbal communication, difficulty with motor skills, or difficulty with understanding and using spoken language.
Down syndrome: Difficulties in Social pragmatics are also common in children with Down syndrome. These difficulties may be due to a combination of factors, such as difficulty understanding and using spoken language, difficulty with motor skills, and difficulty understanding and using nonverbal communication.
Social pragmatic difficulties can impact a child’s ability to make and keep friends, participate in class, and understand what others are saying. They can also cause frustration for both the child and their caregivers. But don’t worry, there is hope! With early intervention and individualized speech therapy, children with social pragmatic difficulties can make great progress!
Social Communication Disorder
Some children may have difficulty with social pragmatics due to a Social Communication Disorder (SCD). SCD is a disorder that includes deficits in the ability to use pragmatics in communication for social purposes. These difficulties can present themselves in various ways.
Research by Trudy S. Goodman, Ph.D., and Deborah D. Johnson, Ph.D., shows that children with social pragmatic difficulties often have a hard time with the following skills:
Initiating and sustaining conversation
Taking turns in conversation
Following rules for conversation
Changing the topic
Understanding nonverbal communication (facial expressions, body language, etc.)
Using appropriate eye contact
Using an appropriate tone of voice
Understanding jokes, sarcasm, or figurative language
Psychological Effects on Children with Social Communication Disorder
Children with social communication disorder often experience difficulty in school and social situations. They may be teased or bullied by their peers and may have trouble making friends. As a result, they may become withdrawn and isolated. Additionally, they may suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.
Psychologists say that children with social communication disorder are more likely to be diagnosed with other psychological disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and ADHD. If your child has social communication disorder, it is important to seek professional help in order to prevent any further psychological damage.
Treatment for Social Pragmatic Disorder
If your child is diagnosed with a social pragmatic disorder, treatment will be individualized based on your child’s needs. Treatment may include:
Behavioral therapy: This can help your child learn how to cope with any anxiety or meltdowns they may experience in social situations.
Speech therapy: This can help your child with any speech difficulties they may have that are impacting their social skills. Pragmatic speech therapy will look at how the individual is socially using language.
Social skills training: This can help your child learn the skills they need to interact successfully with others.
Occupational therapy: This can help your child with any fine motor or gross motor skills they may need to interact successfully with others.
Pragmatic Goals for Speech Therapy
The role of speech therapy is to help your child improve their social pragmatic skills. Treatment for social pragmatic disorder will be individualized based on your child’s needs. Some children with social pragmatic difficulties also have difficulty with understanding and using nonverbal communication. This can be a goal of speech therapy as well. Other goals of speech therapy may include helping your child understand jokes, sarcasm, or figurative language through examples of social stories and social situations.
Having 500 words or being able to recite the alphabet is not as important as using those words and sounds to communicate effectively with others.
Thus, pragmatic goals for speech therapy should target a child’s social and communication skills in addition to their language development.
Listed below are 4 examples of pragmatic goals for speech therapy:
Increasing the use of eye contact: Eye contact is important for communication, as it can help show interest and attention. It helps kids concentrate and understands commands better.
Increasing the use of facial expressions: Facial expressions can help convey emotions. Knowing that your child is happy or mad makes a huge difference in knowing their wants and needs.
Learning how to take turns in a conversation: Turn-taking, such as taking turns in passing the ball or waiting for your turn to shoot the ball, is such a big part of the development of language. This is how kids learn the back-and-forth flow of communication.
Joining in on games and activities with peers: Joining in on games and activities with peers can help build social skills such as greeting new friends, following the rules, and even accepting defeat!
These are just a few examples of pragmatic goals for speech therapy. However, an important part of social pragmatic goals is to help the child generalize the skills they are learning in therapy to their everyday life. This can be done through social stories, social situation examples, and role-playing. It is important to involve the child’s caregivers in treatment so that they can help support the child’s progress outside of therapy.
Social stories are short, simple descriptions of a particular social situation. They can be used to teach your child the skills they need to succeed in that social situation. Research by Nip and colleagues (2006) found that social skills training can help children with pragmatic language impairments make significant improvements in their social skills.
As parents, you are your child’s first teacher. For sure, you want to support your child’s social pragmatic skills. We got it for you! Here are 5 examples of social stories and social situations that can improve your child’s social pragmatic language!
Social Story: Going to the Store
There are lots of opportunities stores provide. Especially because every child loves a trip to the toy store or even to the grocery store. In the store, model appropriate social behaviors for your child. If you want your child to say “please” and “thank you,” make sure you are doing so yourself! Children learn best by observing and imitating the adults in their lives.
Social Situation Examples:
To ask permission: “I will not touch anything without asking first.”
How to ask for help: “I will ask the cashier for help if I need it.”
Teach your child how to say polite words: “Thank you Daddy for buying me a toy!”
Social Story: Eating at a Restaurant
At the restaurant, there are lots of social rules we need to obey. It is a good way to teach our kids how to follow these rules to improve their pragmatics in communication.
Social Situation Examples:
Teach your child how to wait properly: “I will not touch anything on the table until everyone has been served.” and “I will sit in my chair until it is time to leave.”
Teach your child how to regulate their voice in different situations: “I will use my ‘inside voice.'”
Social Story: Playing with Friends
As we all know, play is very important for children. It helps them learn how to interact with others their age. It also encourages them to take turns and share with others.
Social Situation Examples:
Teach your child how to take turns: “We are taking turns with the toy. If my friend wants to play with the toy, I will let them have a turn.”
Teach your child how to play appropriately: “I am playing with friends. We are playing together nicely.”
Teach your child how to accept defeat: “It’s okay to lose. Next time, I will do better and win!”
Social Story: Going to School
School is where lots of learning takes place. It is also a place where children learn how to follow rules and interact with their peers. Here is a social situation to help your child improve their pragmatic language skills.
Social Situation Examples:
Teach your child how to wait: “I will line up quietly when it is time to go inside.”
Encourage your child to be polite and wait for the teacher: “I will raise my hand if I want to speak.”
Teach your child to respect: “I will listen to the teacher when she is talking.”
Social Story: Going to the Doctor
The doctor’s office can be a scary place for some children. But it is also a great place to teach them how to interact with adults and process their emotions. Talking about emotions with your child will help them label how they are feeling and why. This will not only help them understand their own emotions but those of others as well!
Here is a social story about going to the doctor to help your child improve their pragmatic language skills.
Social Situation Examples:
Teach your child to wait: “I will sit in the waiting room until it is my turn to see the doctor.”
Encourage your child to regulate his or her emotions: “It is okay to cry when I get hurt.”
Teach your child to ask questions: “I will ask the doctor if I have any questions.”
These social stories can be used to teach your child how to act in different social situations. You can read them together and discuss what your child should do in each situation.
What are some other ideas you have for working on social skills at home? Share them with us in the comments!
When to Seek Help from a Professional
If you are concerned that your child may have a social pragmatic disorder, please consult with a speech-language pathologist for an evaluation. Treatment for social pragmatic disorder will be individualized based on your child’s needs. More importantly, early intervention is important for the best possible outcome! Get started with Better Speech now.