Social Skills

Top 10 Social Communication Myths

Social communication isn't exactly what a lot of educators think it is, and it's a skill that reaches more kids and takes more time to develop than many educators want to admit. This post outlines the top 10 social language myths and what their corresponding truths are so that you can become a more effective speech-language therapist.

I am Heidi Britz from SmartmouthSLP, and I’m so happy to be here today!  I want to thank Shannon at Speechy Musings for this opportunity to guest blog on a topic that I love, social language.

Over the past ten years, I have learned so much about the concepts of social language, and more specifically Social Thinking ®.  Social communication is a bit of the Wild West when it comes to speech language therapy in the schools.  There is a huge learning curve as to what is and isn’t a social language impairment and the impact it has on our kids in the classroom (and beyond).   For our students in the general education setting who struggle with social language impairments, I work with the schools to help support success in and out of the classroom.  This team may include the SLP, OT, counselor, special ed and general ed teachers and para pros.  From these meetings, I have come up with these “top ten” myths about social language impairments in the classrooms:

1) Social Language support is only for kids with autism.

It’s not just students with autism who need social support. Social language impairments can also impact students with ADD, anxiety, social-emotional disorders, executive function impairments, TBI (traumatic brain injuries) and students with sensory issues too.

2) It’s the SLP’s (or OTs or counselors) job to fix social language, not mine.

As part of a team, we are ALL part of the support for the student.  One person cannot do this job effectively.  Everyone, including the teacher, has the potential to broaden and refine social language skills in and out of the classroom.

3) You can fix social language deficits quickly.

We can’t “fix” social language impairments frankly, we are wired how we are wired.  But we can teach and provide strategies and supports for our kids to participate and learn more effectively.  We need time to figure out the foundation skills of, as Michelle Garcia Winner of Social Thinking® describes, “learning to share our space effectively with others.” This is the most basic definition of social skills.  However, it includes more complex skills of self-regulation, maintaining topics, personal space, and thinking about how other people think and feel, just to name a few starting points.  Social language progress is more of a crock pot process than a microwave.

4) It’s not a disability, it’s just bad behavior.

While we may see the behaviors first, we need to look deeper to figure out if the student understands the rules (both spoken and hidden) of the classroom before we dismiss it as just bad behavior.  Are they blurting out, invading other people’s personal space or running out of the room?   It could be that their sensory systems are overwhelmed, they haven’t considered how their words or actions make others feel and think, or didn’t understand that rules change across people and settings.

5) Social language has nothing to do with academics.

Social language is actually already embedded throughout the academic curriculum!  Perspective taking, point of view,  and being able to think about how another culture or person might be feeling are part of language arts/literature, social studies and even the science curriculum.  We also work in group settings in the classroom and this is a social skill that is also a life skill.  If you can’t work in a classroom setting, it’s going to make it difficult for our students to work in a college or job setting eventually.

6) There is no time in the day to work on social language skills.

Social language concepts are naturally embedded throughout your day already, academically and socially.  Transitions, group projects, and sharing materials are all examples of opportunities to work on skills along the social continuum.  If your school is using PBIS (positive behavior interventions and supports), this can align beautifully with social language concepts and practice!

7) I have no money for social language materials for my class.

Your SLP, OT and counselors probably have materials that they can share. We wrote a mini-grant to fund a social language library and our Administration was open to our asking for materials that we could use to support our students. Talk to your media specialist about adding some books to the school library for teaching social language concepts, such as Julia Cook’s fantastic books!  TeachersPayTeachers is full of great ideas for social language as is Pinterest . Social language blogs are another great resources that you can add to your teaching repertoire, and many of these resources are FREE!   AUsomely Social , Speech Paths and of course, Speechy Musings, are a few that that I love.

8) The student has straight A’s so they are fine.

Many of our students with social language impairments are academically gifted.  However, academics are only one part of the picture of educational success.  Some of the smartest kids I know are often socially clueless and emotionally isolated. We need to find a balance of academic and social success in the schools.

9) They should “figure it out” just like everyone else does.

Our students with social language impairments are not incidental learners.  If they were, they would have picked up on the social cues just like their neurotypical peers.  However, our kids often miss these cues or misinterpret them completely and end up standing out (or getting in trouble for not following the rules).  We need to break down the steps to a task or a rule to build understanding and then give our students lots of opportunities to practice!  Visual support is key for our kids, as they are often “show me, don’t tell me” kinds of people.

10) They always say “please” and “thank you”.  Isn’t that social language?

These rote skills of politeness are important, but they are just scratching the surface of social language.  It’s much deeper than please and thank you.  We really want to help our students connect and function successfully in social settings beyond school, building friendships and being part of a community.  If you don’t feel like you have a good understanding of what social language is, start with the Social Thinking® website for lots of teacher and parent friendly blogs and information.  Then ask questions and seek out others in your building (and beyond) that do!

Do you have any other “Top 10” myths to add?   Share here!

Heidi Britz is a school based, lead SLP with over twenty years of experience.  She specializes in social language support from PreK through high school.  You can find her at her social language blog, SmartmouthSLP, on Instagram @Smartmouthslp or in her TeachersPayTeachers store, SmartmouthSLP (are you sensing a pattern here?).

Would you love to contribute your expertise on Speechy Musings? I’d love to have you and the SLP community needs as many voices as possible! To apply, click here or on the image below:


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2 Comment

  1. Reply
    September 14, 2016 at 10:09 AM

    Thanks for the opportunity to share my social thoughts today!

  2. Reply
    Sue Anne Reyes
    September 15, 2016 at 3:42 AM

    Thank you for sharing this one! It will really help me a lot. I’m a SPED teacher in the Philippines, and these myth busters really mean a lot. Kudos!

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