Social Skills – Considering Beyond a Diagnosis

There are numerous speech and language difficulties I can personally relate to. Take, auditory processing disorder. Describe the offside rule to me and watch my face go blank. You might try to explain it slowly and clearly (many have!) but it will still sound like white noise to me. We have all experienced word-finding difficulties at some stage in our lives (I called my key a “car-opener” just the other day). And who doesn’t have any sensory aversions? I completed an unofficial staffroom survey and found a huge range of irrational dislikes – the feel of cotton wool; the sound of buzzing light bulbs; mixed textures in yoghurt… the list goes on.


Working with children with primary language disorder, I have always tried to understand how our kids are feeling and how they might experience the world.  Walking in someone else’s shoes not only gives us perspective. In a clinical setting it can be a valuable tool when problem-solving and setting goals for students. More recently, I have considered my own experiences of being “socially unskilled”.

Last year I attended a workshop presented by Alex Kelly, a wonderful speech pathologist from the UK who specialises in the assessment and teaching of social skills. Previous to this workshop, I always found the idea of “assessing” a child’s social skills a bit daunting. Social Skills 1But one of the most useful exercises Alex got us to do was consider a time we ourselves felt “socially unskilled”. Was there a time when other people didn’t see us for who we were? Had other people reacted in a way we did not intend? Had we ever felt awkward, shy, rude or boring? Yes, we had.


Typically, social skills can be subdivided under the headings – self-awareness, body language and conversation skills. These are the skills speech pathologists work on. However, listed below are five common causes of poor social skills that should be considered by parents, educators and all other professionals involved.

1.     Not Knowing The Rules Social Skills 2

Do we shake hands? Hug? Kiss on the cheek? The social rules that subtly change from one situation to another can be a minefield. Giving a child some black and white rules makes the world a less confusing place (e.g. hugs and kisses are for family but you can high five and shake hands with your teacher). As you encounter new situations where the rules change, consider using social stories or comic strips to increase a child’s awareness and understanding.

2.     Lack Of Information

Sometimes we put our foot in it when we fail to consider other people’s circumstances, culture or beliefs.  If a child is getting into embarrassing situations, it might be worth developing a social story to explain why some things should simply not be said.

3.     Heightened Emotions

When we are feeling excited, anxious, tired or angry, we often do not consider other people’s reactions or perceptions of us. While lots of kids learn to self-sooth, emotional regulation is a skill many children need to be explicitly taught. A child psychologist can support your child to do this.Social Skills 3


4.     Low Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is part of a cycle. Self-esteem affects how we interact with others. This affects the relationships we build, and healthy relationships increase self-esteem.Social Skills 4 You may find that when a professional helps your child to develop social skills, there is a surge in self-esteem. However, if you feel that your child’s self-esteem is impacting on their social skills and relationship development, get in touch with a child psychologist.

 5.     Family Life And Social Background

With a model of good interaction at home, a child has a foundation on which they can build and develop. Children with ASD, PLD and ADHD are usually visual learners. Showing a child the appropriate behaviour will be much more effective than just talking about it

Cathy Nicholson – Speech Language Pathologist – LET’S TALK Developmental Hub


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