Social Thinking / Pragmatic Language
Social thinking/pragmatic language is getting into other people’s brains and taking their perspective; figuring out their thoughts, emotions and intentions, even when we are not physically interacting with them. Individuals diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, nonverbal learning disorders, and high functioning autism often display difficulties with social thinking or pragmatic language delays. Children with language delays may also exhibit problems with social communication.
Why is Social Thinking Important?
We all know someone who is socially gifted. That person knows how to start a conversation with casual acquaintances and good friends, to balance talking with listening, and to support conversational partners with their facial expressions and supportive comments. These are people we all admire. These are the people with whom everyone wants to be friends.
Clearly, social thinking influences peer relationships. Having the ability to think about other people also impacts our ability to comprehend what we read, to pay attention in class and to write organized and meaningful papers.
How Does Social Thinking/Pragmatic Language Impact Peer Relationships?
As toddlers and preschoolers, children learn that being part of a group has certain expectations. They learn that there are certain rules they are expected to follow. They must keep their bodies and brains in the group and use appropriate (not staring) eye contact. They must take turns during games and conversations and listen to others and talk about the same thing the group is discussing. If they follow the expected behaviors, they will make others feel good, which in turn, will make them feel good.
If they engage in unexpected behaviors like cutting in line, becoming overly competitive or pushy or talking only about themselves, this will make others uncomfortable and cause them to have “weird” thoughts about them. Others will then react negatively to them, which, consequently, will elicit a negative reaction in themselves.
Children learn that they will feel good if they make others feel good. Those who don’t understand that concept are likely to be ostracized by their peers, which can sometimes evolve into behavior problems as well.
By 4th grade, typically developing kids become masters of figurative language. This enables them to understand jokes, sarcasm and figures of speech. These skills separate the children who lead the social groups from the ones who are gullible and often bullied by their peers.
How Does Social Thinking Impact Academic Achievement?
To comprehend what they read, children must be able to get inside the heads of their characters. This enables our kids to make inferences about the conflict in the story, and to determine their characters’ feelings about the conflict and their resulting motivation and actions to resolve it.
To write papers, children must be able to take the perspective of their readers. They must determine what their readers already know and what they must be told to understand the writer’s point of view. Children must explain concepts with appropriate detail and give adequate background information so their readers can follow their logic and understand the points they are trying to make. Both reading comprehension and written expression require excellent social thinking skills.
How to Identify Social Thinking Challenges…..
Seek Advice from a Language Specialist if Your Child …
- Does not actively participate during class discussion or sharing;
- Is unable to sustain a topic during discussions or play;
- Does not initiate play with peers;
- Does not participate in conversations with peers or familiar adults;
- Does not take turns in conversation but interrupts instead;
- Does not use appropriate greetings and farewells;
- Chooses to play alone most of the time;
- Makes the same mistakes repeatedly;
- Has difficulty working cooperatively in a group;
- Is not able to understand others’ feelings or explain reasons for behaviors;
- Has difficulty interpreting facial expressions and vocal intonation associated with emotions;
- Does not understand age appropriate humor and sarcasm.
Tips to Try with Your Children at Home…
- Do not assume they understand how their actions affect others – explain.
- Use visual cues such as gestures/pictures to explain emotions and reactions.
- Explain cause and effect relationships as situations arise in activities of daily living and also within stories or books.
- Model “if…then…” and why…because…” sentences to explain.
- Brainstorm age appropriate topics for your child to discuss with peers, and then model questions to initiate conversations. Examples are, “What did you do over the weekend?” Have you ever played _______?” or “What do you like to play?”
- Work on taking turns, first when playing games, and then during conversations.
- Practice greetings and farewells.
- Encourage good eye contact, avoid staring…look at the speaker/listener about 60% of the time.
How Can We Help?
The specialists at Jodie K. Schuller & Associates are professional speech and language therapists, many with over 25 years of experience in communicative disorders. Licensed by the state of California as speech-language pathologists, our therapists have also completed advanced training in specific techniques to enhance oral and written communication. Therapists have been trained to help children with social challenges using Michele Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking Curriculum. To help those with delayed speech development, therapists have taken advanced training in the Talk Tools approach to oral motor therapy and the Cycles approach to phonology. Having attended the Childhood Apraxia (CASANA) Conference, therapists have been trained to use the Kaufman, Strand and Prompt methodologies, among others, to help those with apraxia of speech. Therapists have studied the various methodologies recommended to treat children on the autism spectrum including PECS and Floortime. They are equipped to help nonverbal children using American Sign Language (ASL) and Alternative and Augmentative (AAC) devices. To facilitate the development of reading and written language development, therapists have attended training programs from coast to coast including post-graduate courses offered by the Landmark School of Education, the Wilson Reading System (based on Orton Gillingham) and the complete range of programs developed by Lindamood Bell including LIPS, Visualizing and Verbalizing, On Cloud 9 Math and Seeing Stars. Therapists have also been certified by the International Association of Orofacial Myology (IAOM) to diagnose and treat breathing and swallowing problems related to unhealthy oral resting postures, sucking habits and tongue thrust.