Social Communication Disorder (SCD)

Social Communication Disorder – A Medical Condition

We understand that when your child has been recently diagnosed with Social Communication Disorder (SCD) you’re likely going to have a lot of questions. In fact, that’s probably how you ended up finding this article in the first place. It’s natural to have a lot of questions about this disorder, especially because it is a recently defined medical condition.

Children with Social Communication Disorder typically have difficulties communicating in socially appropriate ways, and/or using appropriate language for the particular setting they’re in. They tend to be proficient with the mechanics of speaking, for example pronouncing words and constructing coherent sentences. Where they struggle is using that language ability to hold conversations, which makes it difficult to create and maintain social relationships with others.

If you either know or suspect your child has a Social Communication Disorder, the good news is that there are ways to support your child so that he or she can become more engaged, and able to relate and interact with you, your family and his/her friends.  This article reviews a few of the known facts about this disorder, including the signs and symptoms as well as how to seek professional help if needed.

What is Social Communication Disorder?

Individuals with Social Communication Disorder struggle with what is called “pragmatics”. Pragmatics refers to the subtle unspoken rules of language and how we use our words to join into conversations with others in a reciprocal and emotionally connected back and forth way.  These difficulties may lead to a wide variety of awkward conversations.  For example, your child may frequently dominating conversations, or be hesitant to communicate at all, or even inadvertently seem rude by using language that is not appropriate for the setting.

The reasons for children with Social Communication Disorder using socially inappropriate language is not yet known. You may be interested to know that this disorder was only recognized as an official diagnosis in 2013 when the American Psychiatric Association (APA) added it to the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Previously it was debated whether or not this condition was a symptom of language impairment, a sign of Autism Spectrum Disorder, or it’s own condition entirely.

The reason why Social Communication Disorder is sometimes associated with autism is because autism is also characterized by weak social communication skills. Before SCD was its own diagnosis, children with this condition would often end up erroneously being diagnosed with autism. However, it has since been discovered that children with SCD do not share the other signs and symptoms of autism, such as narrowly defined interests and repetitive patterns of behavior.

Since SCD is such a new diagnosis it’s not known how many children have the disorder or what causes it. Current medical theories suggest that it is a neurological disorder in the brain’s right hemisphere that leads to difficulties in processing verbal and visual information at the same time. Other theories suggest that the disorder is related to impairments in executive functioning skills.

Signs and Symptoms of Social Communication Disorder

While we all may have difficulties in certain social situations from time to time, SCD is a pervasive disorder which children struggle with from day to day. This may lead to your child saying inappropriate and/or unrelated things during conversations. Or he or she may interrupt conversations quite frequently. In other words, they fail to grasp the basic rules of conversation which includes how to start a conversation, how to listen to others during a conversation, how to phrase questions, and how to stay on topic during a conversation.

You may notice signs of SCD in early childhood, but they are often not fully realized until your child starts school and begins interacting with others. Some signs and symptoms may include:

  • Lack of interest in social interactions
  • Frequently changing the topic and/or dominating conversations
  • Not being able to adapt language to various social situations (i.e., speaking the same way to friends as they would to a teacher)
  • Difficulties with understanding information that is implied but not explicitly stated
  • Not knowing how to properly greet other people and/or request information from them
  • A tendency to take communication too literally and not understanding jokes or sarcasm
  • Challenges with understanding nonverbal communication

Seeking Help for Social Communication Disorder

If you suspect your child has SCD it’s important to first, confirm the diagnosis. Professionals who may be able to help are your child’s pediatrician or family doctor.  If they are unfamiliar with SCD they may refer you to a specialist that could be a developmental pediatrician, neurologist, psychologist and/or speech therapist.  These professionals can also help you design an appropriate treatment plan that can boost your child’s ability to interact with others. To learn more about how to advance your child’s social communication abilities, you might find Profectum’s webcasts on speech language communication helpful.

If you are having difficulty interacting with your child, you can get started right away learning ways to engage and communicate with your child.  For guidance we have provided the Profectum Parent Toolbox, a FREE resource.  This Toolbox will give you strategies to help your child communicate with you and the world around him or her more successfully.  Sign in and get started today!