Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder vs Autism Spectrum Disorder

Many people assume that teens with limited social skills may fall somewhere along the autism spectrum; however, there is a wide range of explanations for difficulties with social communication. The newest version of the DSM includes a description for Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder, which captures some of the social skill issues associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but is not representative of the underlying causes.

What is Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder?

Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder is characterized by difficulty with the use of social language and communication skills. Social pragmatics refers to the practical social understanding of things that are happening in a social context. With deficits in social pragmatics, a teen may miss many of the nuances of communication, key meaning of a conversation, and have trouble expressing themselves clearly and directly. These struggles may be common of teens on the spectrum, but they don’t explain executive functioning deficits, sensory processing issues, and overdominant verbal abilities in those who continue to struggle with social communication. 

Signs of Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder may include: 

  • Not responding to people in a way that is understandable
  • Interrupting others during conversation
  • Difficulties following rules for conversation and storytelling
  • May not use gestures such as waving and pointing
  • Difficulty expressing feelings and emotions
  • Changing the topic or losing track of what is being discussed
  • Difficulty using words as needed to make conversation
  • Trouble making friends and maintaining friendships
  • Delays in speech or language development which can even include disinterest in talking

One of the key features that stands out is the impaired ability to change communication to match context or the needs of the listener, such as speaking differently in a classroom than in social settings, talking differently to a child than to an adult, and avoiding the use of overly formal language. Many teens with social pragmatics deficits struggle with rigidly following social scripts and adapting boundaries depending on the social situation. 

How Does it Compare to Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Teens on the spectrum struggle more with the rigid processing aspect of communication than with verbal abilities. They are more likely to have a ego-centric worldview and have a hard time considering other people’s perspectives, which leads to mismatch in conversations. Both disorders involve difficulties with interpreting and using nonverbal communication skills. 

A major difference between Autism Spectrum Disorder and Social Communication Disorder is that teens on the spectrum may display more “social behavioral differences,” such as repetitive behaviors, fixation on rituals and routines, and preoccupation with specific subjects. Teens with Social Communication Disorder are more likely to be seen as socially awkward due to communication difficulties than social behavior. Additionally, teens with SCD are more likely to struggle with understanding the meaning of their interactions.

Consulting a variety of neurodevelopmental specialists, including speech pathologists, neurologists, and behavior analysts can help determine the most accurate diagnosis for your child. Based on their similarities, many of the treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorder are helpful for teens with Social Pragmatics Disorder. Treatment recommendations usually involve improving functional communication skills specific to social situations. 

How Can Residential Treatment Improve Social Communication Difficulties? 

The best way to work on functional communication skills is through social skills training and real-world experiences. At New Focus Academy, our dedicated staff use recreation to teach and practice valuable social skills, get students out of their comfort zones, and expose them to new, positive leisure experiences. Students at New Focus attend daily groups focused on developing appropriate social skills. These skills are then practiced through experiential activities in the community and with peers. Students will participate in daily fitness and outdoor recreation activities to promote well-being. 

Recognizing how social communication difficulties can impact academic performance has motivated us to create classroom curriculum designed to teach functional academics. For example, students take classes in social-emotional learning, life skills, community-based living, and function math and language arts. Social-emotional learning involves discussing and practicing emotional regulation, social & physical boundaries, internet safety, and job-specific social skills. This helps students become more engaged in the learning process, as they understand how course material relates to their everyday lives, not just abstract concepts, and fuels group discussions about how they relate to these topics. Residential treatment centers that offer academics help students apply social skills learned in different types of social settings, which helps them develop greater social-emotional fluency. 

New Focus Academy Can Help 

New Focus Academy is a residential treatment center for boys ages 12-18 who struggle with autism spectrum disorder, other neurodevelopmental disorders, and learning disorders such as ADHD. The program utilizes positive reinforcement to increase the student’s self-esteem and independence.Our academic program teaches Utah’s Common Core Curriculum with a focus on Essential Elements, such as life skills, functional math and language arts skills, community based living skills, and social-emotional skills.  The skills they learn at New Focus will help them learn to have positive social interaction, organization, and improve their self-management. Students are given the opportunity to gain the confidence they need to foster and maintain healthy relationships and lifestyle habits. 

For more information about how New Focus can help with Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder in teens, call 844-313-6749. We can help your family today!