Verbal and Non-verbal rules that dictate social interactions
Rules vary across cultures
Commonly referred to as social skills, pragmatic language refers to the verbal and non-verbal rules that dictate our social interactions. While these rules vary greatly across cultures they are something that we all use every day. Any time there is more than one person, these rules are being followed. We do not need to say anything verbally to use social skills.
When we enter a room with another person, if and how we react to them is dictated by the unwritten rules of social communication. Do we make eye contact? Do we nod our head in acknowledgment of their presence? Do we speak to them and if so, what do we say? While most of us are easily able to make the right decisions in social situations without any real thought, these situations can be painfully difficult to someone with a social skills disorder.
Even Smart Kids Can Have Disordered Social Skills
These impairments are not always obvious to an outsider. Often they get called "bad", "weird" or any manner of negative labels. Part of the reason for that is because someone can have gifted intelligence and a strong command of language and still have impaired social skills.
If you think back through your life about the kids and people you have known I'm sure you can remember those who "just didn't get it". They likely had some sort of social skills disorder.
Why Your Child Doesn't Get It Socially
A common characteristic of a social skills disorder is impaired Theory of Mind and Perspective Taking. Theory of mind is the ability to understand how different beliefs, motivations, knowledge and moods affect our own behavior as well as the behavior of those around us. Theory of Mind is a necessary component of perspective taking.
Perspective taking refers to our ability to relate with others, empathize with them and see things from their perspective. In order to do this we must be able to perceive what their motivations are as well as their feeling and thoughts. An example of this would be concluding that someone is upset by noticing tears in their eyes or that their eyebrows are furrowed.
As you can imagine, these disorders can impact every aspect of a child's life. Social interactions become more complex as we get older. While good social skills may be limited to playing nicely alongside another child as a toddler, they require us to judge moods, beliefs and intent among a whole host of other complex variables as we age. We must be able to adapt to different situations and settings if we are to be effective socially.
What You Should Do If Your Child Has Trouble Socially
If you are concerned about your child's social development it is important that you get them help. The longer you wait the further behind they will fall. Fortunately social skills can be learned. However, in many instances children will continue to need some assistance throughout their lives; so the earlier you get help the better. Many Speech-Language Pathologists work with pragmatic language and can help improve your child's social skills.