Social communication therapy

Are you an eloquent, intelligent speaker but just can't seem to "get" how to talk to people? You may be struggling with the social-pragmatic aspect of communication.

The goal of social communication therapy is to provide you with a concrete guide to the oft-confusing "social world", so that you understand why and how human beings react to one another. By developing social awareness and practicing social skills, you will learn how to engage and connect in your interactions, and how to problem-solve awkward and challenging scenarios.

What is a social communication disorder?

Social communication refers to the "unwritten rules" of interpersonal interaction. It encompasses behaviors such as body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and word choice. Good social communication requires constantly adapting your behaviors based on situational awareness, and responding to the social signals given off by those around you.

People with social communication deficits are often highly intelligent and skilled at professional and academic tasks, but lack an instinctive understanding of the social world. They may receive feedback from friends, colleagues, or managers that they are "rude", "inappropriate", "arrogant", or "aloof", even when they try very hard to be the exact opposite.

Social communication disorders (also referred to as "pragmatic language disorders" or similar terms) are often associated with labels such as autism and Asperger's syndrome. Diagnoses such as ADHD, OCD, or anxiety disorder can also be accompanied by social communication challenges, due to reduced awareness (or unproductive hyperawareness) of behaviors and their impact. However, there are many adults without any diagnosis who struggle with the nuances of social communication and require explicit training to grasp these concepts.

What you're describing sounds like me. Does this mean I have autism?

The latest version of the DSM-V, published in 2013, made significant changes to prior DSM-IV diagnostic labels that included autism, PDD-NOS, Asperger's, and others. As of 2013, a new diagnostic category of social communication disorder (SCD) was identified, and is separate from autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In a nutshell, ASD is characterized by social learning challenges and other cognitive-behavioral symptoms, such as repetitive behaviors and/or intellectual disability. SCD is characterized solely by social communication deficits, without any accompanying motoric or cognitive symptoms. Because SCD is a very new diagnosis, research and information about this population is minimal.

Social communication deficits can be extremely subtle. Many people who struggle with social interactions are perfectly "normal", successful individuals with families and full social lives. But, underneath the surface, they may feel confused, anxious, scared, or frustrated when trying to navigate a host of interpersonal communication scenarios, ranging from cocktail party small-talk to training a junior staff member. Often, adults with social communication deficits are acutely aware that they "aren't as good" as other people in these situations, but have no idea how to improve their social-interactional skills.

What happens in social communication therapy?

speech IRL follows the Social Thinking model developed by Michelle Garcia-Winner, paired with our specialized and practical experience in the world of professional adult communication.

We start with an evaluation, comprised of an interview, behavior observations, and possibly some simulated or real-world social interaction exercises. We use a rubric to identify your areas of strength and weakness, and determine what areas would most benefit from structured work.

Therapy usually employs a variety of methods. Explicit teaching and training in specific skills and behaviors is often a start. Introspective discussion to increase awareness of self and others is critical. Role-play is important and provides a chance to try out new concepts in a safe practice environment. And, of course, nothing beats real-world excursions talking to real-live strangers!

What are the benefits of social communication therapy?

The goal of social communication therapy is to equip you with the tangible knowledge and skills necessary for creating engaging, positive connections with people around you. For some people, therapy goals might work towards a specific type of interaction: how to give feedback, how to communicate to clients, how to maintain small talk. For others, goals may be more general, such as becoming more approachable or collaborative.

There is no such thing as perfect social skills, and social communication is something that can be worked on for your entire life! The goal of therapy is to give you a basic understanding and toolkit so that you can continue progress independently. You and your therapist will work together to determine when you are satisfied with your abilities, and how you can continue to progress and grow on your own.