Social Communication Disorders: Making it Personal


Our measure of mental capabilities is held parallel to our ability to interact with and operate within our society; the same society that sets the social standards that medical journals and magazines derive from the relatively new science of psychology. For most of us, our social communication skills are attributed to our personalities, environments, experiences, and (some would even argue) astrological signs. However, all of these become overshadowed when our social communication becomes comorbid with other mental disabilities. We primarily associate a person’s social communication style and ability with their mental health. When they’ve been diagnosed with a mental disorder, it’s almost as if their mental health overshadows their personality.

It does not.

Social communication is the ability to vary your speech style, consider others’ perspectives, and effectively use and understand the verbal and nonverbal communications of a language. In a more practical sense, it is understanding a social situation and being able to participate in further developing it. We’ve all had frustrating conversations or arguments where someone is misunderstanding what we’re saying. Individuals with social communication disorders experience this on varying degrees. But what exactly are social communication disorders? Social communication disorders usually interfere with verbal and nonverbal communication and make understanding and participating in social settings difficult.

Some social communication disorders can be comorbid with aphasia, dementia, ADHD, intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, etc. Due to the fact that social communication issues are often a defining feature of autism spectrum disorder, social communication disorders and autism aren’t usually seen as being comorbid. Additionally, since the cause of social communication disorders as a distinct disorder isn’t known, it is almost always defined within the context of the disability.

The diagnosis process for social communication disorders varies depending on the aspect of the disorder that speech pathologists are trying to assess. However, typical social communication disorder diagnosis tests assess an individual’s use of verbal and nonverbal means of communication including natural gestures, speech signs, pictures, written words, etc. They also test to see if an individual can manipulate conversation topics to repair communication breakdowns and communicate using a range of social functions that can be reciprocated and used to promote the development of friendships and social networking. Treatment for individuals with social and communication disorders is developed using their scores on some of these assessments.

There are three treatment methods that are currently used by mental health professionals: Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), which is replacing natural speech with symbols/objects so individuals can more effectively relate ideas in a less frustrating manner. Computer-Based Instruction is the use of technological programs to help teach language skills and social problem-solving. Video-Based Instruction is where videos of individuals are watched and recorded in order to track and help modify their progress.

With all this in mind, how a person communicates because of their ability shouldn’t be a description of their personality. To combat stigma and create a welcoming environment, we should operate within our ability to be socially aware and include consideration of mental health disorders as a part of our social settings.

References:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2016a). Code of ethics [Ethics].
Available from www.asha.org/policy.

Botting, N., Crutchley, A., & Conti-Ramsden, G. (1998). Educational transitions of 7-year
old children with SLI in language units: A longitudinal study. International Journal
of Language & Communication Disorders, 33, 177–197.

Gray, C., White, A. L., & McAndrew, S. (2002). My social stories book. London, United
Kingdom: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

World Health Organization. (2001). International classification of functioning, disability
and health. Geneva, Switzerland: Author.

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