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What is social communication disorder?

Children with social communication disorder have trouble using language to interact with other people. They understand language and can use it in some contexts, but they have trouble communicating in social situations. They might struggle to interpret other people’s words and gestures, use greetings, and have conversations. Often, they have trouble following stories or understanding implied meanings that are clear to other kids their age. 

Social communication disorder does not mean that a child isn’t smart. It is a relatively new diagnosis. In the past, kids with social communication disorder were diagnosed with a type of autism spectrum disorder. 

What are the symptoms of social communication disorder?

Social communication disorder affects all of a child’s verbal and nonverbal social communication. That includes speaking, writing, gestures, and sign language. Signs that a child might have social communication disorder include: 

  • Trouble using words or gestures in some situations, such as:  
  • Greetings  
  • Sharing what they know with others  
  • Changing how they speak in different situations  
  • Knowing when something is implied but not clearly stated 
  • Talking with others 
  • Telling a story 
  • Learning language more slowly than other kids 
  • Not having much interest in talking to or playing with other children 
  • Not responding or responding very little when someone tries to interact with them 

How is social communication disorder diagnosed?

To be diagnosed with social communication disorder, the child must have started showing symptoms when they were very young. Sometimes, the signs get much clearer as the child gets older and their communication skills fall behind other kids their age.  

Social communication disorder can sometimes look like autism spectrum disorder. Before diagnosing a child with social communication disorder, a professional will make sure that the child does not have autism spectrum disorder. 

How is social communication disorder treated?

There is not yet a specific treatment for social communication disorder. However, speech and language therapy and social skills training can help kids with social communication disorder learn to communicate more easily. 

This guide was last reviewed or updated on December 18, 2023.