Social communication, otherwise known as pragmatics, is another area of language that our therapists can help your child develop. Pragmatics refers to how people use language appropriately in different situations and with different people. It includes knowing how to follow social rules, such as taking conversational turns, staying on topic, and using body language, gestures, and facial expressions to help express ideas and feelings. Pragmatics also involves the ability to change language based on the situation or listener, such as using different social rules at recess with a friend than with a teacher in the classroom.
The development of appropriate social communication skills is important for using language appropriately, interpreting others’ language and gestures correctly, and building social relationships. Sometimes, children and teens may struggle to develop pragmatic skills, leading to difficulty fostering relationships and navigating social situations. These children may benefit from speech and language therapy, and our therapists have extensive experience helping children and teens develop these necessary skills.
There are several facets of social communication that we can help your child develop:
Theory of Mind: A person that is considered to be an efficient social communicator has a well-developed Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind refers to the higher-level language skills that a person needs to take another person's perspective, understand their thoughts and feelings, and know why people behave the way that they do based on those feelings and thoughts. Theory of Mind typically begins to develop during the toddler years and children naturally build on those skills as they age and mature. For some children, this development does not occur naturally and they highly benefit from therapy in this area. A comprehensive assessment of their Theory of Mind skills will guide how and what we teach your child. Therapy can help children better understand thoughts, feelings, and others’ perspectives in order to navigate relationships and handle a variety of social situations.
A child puts a cookie on the table and leaves the room, then a second child hides the cookie. The first child will still look for the cookie on the table when they come back because they do not know that the cookie was moved by the second child. A child with an underdeveloped concept of Theory of Mind may think that the first child will automatically know that the second child moved the cookie.
Hidden Feelings: Sometimes, we may feel one way on the inside, but are able to show different emotions on the outside. For example, if we are feeling bored with a conversation and want to change the subject, we do not yawn and interrupt the speaker with our own topic of interest. We instead smile, show interest, ask questions, and wait for our turn to change the subject. While most adults have lots of practice doing this, the concept of showing a different emotion than what we’re feeling is sometimes difficult for children or teens to grasp. We can help them learn about how hidden feelings can help us handle social situations in expected and polite ways that make others feel good. We can also teach the concept of “think versus say” to help them understand that some things are hurtful or inappropriate to say, so we must simply think about them instead.
Tyler and Spencer are talking about their weekends. Spencer shares that he went to a car museum. Tyler isn’t interested in cars, so he rolls his eyes, yawns, and looks around the room while Spencer is talking. He then interrupts Spencer by saying, “that’s really boring, I don’t like cars”, and immediately starts talking about watching a dinosaur movie. Tyler was feeling bored but was not good at hiding his emotions or understanding “think versus say” to make expected social choices. Instead, Tyler could look at Spencer while he is talking, use body language showing interest, and ask an appropriate question, such as “what was your favorite car you saw?”. Tyler can then tell Spencer that he watched a movie about dinosaurs over the weekend.
False Belief: The concept of ‘false belief’ is mastered when a child understands that it is possible to have beliefs that are wrong. This concept is usually developed by around 4-5 years of age, but some children have difficulty with mastering this. There are also two stages of false belief development: first order and second order.
First Order False Beliefs: Mastery of this concept is shown when a child understands that a belief that they have about events in the real world may be incorrect. For instance, a child is shown a familiar candy box and asked what he thinks is in the box. He responds with, “candy!”. However, the box is opened and reveals pencils instead. The child now knows that the box contains pencils. He is asked what his friend might think is in the box. A child with an underdeveloped concept of false beliefs may say, “pencils”. A child who has mastered this concept will know that the child who has not yet seen the contents of the box will still think there is candy inside.
Second-Order False Beliefs: Mastery of this concept is shown when a child understands that others’ beliefs may be different from their own as well as from what is really true. A common task to assess this is known as the “Sally-Anne Task”. In this task, a child is shown two people and objects: Sally and her basket, and Anne and her box. They see Sally put a ball into her basket and walk away. They then see Anne take the ball out of Anne’s basket and place it in her box. The child is asked where Sally will look for her ball when she enters the room. A child with an underdeveloped concept of false beliefs may assume she will look in the box. However, a child who understands second-order false beliefs will understand several things: First, that Sally’s beliefs are different from their own, and second, that Sally’s beliefs are different from reality. This child would correctly answer that she would look in her basket where she left the ball originally.
For more information about the Theory of Mind and False Beliefs, CLICK ON THE LINK HERE.
Written by Stacy Lecznar, MA, CCC-SLP A Gigi’s Kids Speech and Language Pathologist