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What It's Like to Have a Social Communication Disorder

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People with social communication disorder experience difficulties using verbal and nonverbal language for social purposes. Many people who have social communication disorder are bright academically, but the disorder can still have a negative impact on the person’s overall success and self-worth.

Social interaction — which affects a person’s day to day life — is one of the main difficulties a person with the disorder will encounter. These struggles can sometimes mean the person either talks too much, or they stay on the peripheral and say very little. Saying too much can lead to people becoming frustrated with the person, while saying too little and keeping to themselves can lead to loneliness and social isolation; both of which make it difficult for the person to make friends.

Another big challenge for a person with social communication disorder is being able to follow the social rules for conversation or storytelling. Even the simplest things like talking about last night’s big football game can be a challenge, as the person may have a hard time accurately repeating what someone else told them because of their processing impairment. These types of errors can result in people not trusting that person for information, or to make reliable plans because they may think the person don’t listen well. And although you may be listening, the problem is you can’t process the information correctly therefore you don’t respond correctly.

A person with this type of disorder may also struggle with not being able to give the proper response or gesture in a situation. For example, when someone you know has a death in the family you may lack showing proper empathy outwardly, although inside you feel very sad about what they are going through. Those around you may think you are self-centered, although in reality you are struggling to show the proper emotion. Both situations can truly affect your ability to make and keep friends.

Personal gestures such as eye contact and handshaking can also prove to be challenging for someone with social communication disorder. If a person exhibits poor eye contact with their peers and teachers, it may mistakenly express that the person is not interested in them. While the truth may be that the person is indeed interested in the conversation, it is often mentally draining for them to maintain eye contact and listen at the same time. One of the reasons why handshaking is hard for me is because it’s already a process to say thank you, or to meet someone. Adding another layer like handshaking becomes difficult for people like me with social communication disorder .

Growing up both of these situations were very hard for me to learn, but through my experiences my parents made I sure I was corrected. And because they had several social gatherings at my house, I was fortunate to have a lot of practice in the social areas that were difficult for me.

Speech therapy is one of the primary treatments for people with social communication disorder. One of the techniques used in therapy is to have the person read comic strip conversations as illustrated by the group. This exercise allow you to see what you are saying. It also allows you to have a visual clue of what you want to say in the conversation. For those with fine motor skills deficits, this exercise can be done on the computer. It also provides a few laughs in the process which also increases conversation. Another method used is social stories which are generally used in the beginning years or for those with more severe deficits because they need more intensive instruction.

The most common technique used is the social intervention project which is a therapy program that focuses on proper conversation, tone of voice, maintaining the right gestures, controlling emotions and taking turns. Another common but simple technique is just having a casual conversation as a group. Students don’t even realize how much learning is taking place using this technique. Another type of treatment is using peer mentoring groups, which are typically used for later elementary school and early middle school students so they can gain important skills from a responsible peer as they become more independent. Typically children with this disorder benefit from both speech therapy and peer mentoring to help them gain the needed skills.

The technique my speech therapist most often was personal conversation because I was weak in this area. Fortunately because of early interventions, it wasn’t as severe as others my age. This allowed me to practice dealing with my own personal emotions better. When was a teenager I certainly didn’t want to be in speech therapy, because I thought it meant I was “stupid.” I had a wonderful speech therapist though. She knew I could still make tremendous progress using personal conversation as my primary treatment mode, and it didn’t bother her that it wasn’t the most traditional treatment method.

Another part of my treatment was being involved in clubs and sports. Although being in sports wasn’t a traditional peer mentoring group, I was always placed with teammates and members who were respectful and more than willing to give me a chance. My teenage years weren’t easy for me, but I made it because my speech therapist, coaches and club advisors were amazing to me during the time when my social challenges were at their peak.

Overall as difficult as it seems everything eventually comes easier. I can say with great confidence to trust your speech therapist and others who support you as their care will make a huge difference in your life. I am proud to say that I now have great friends, despite having a social communication disorder.

Photo credit: LightFieldStudios/Getty Images

Originally published: January 2, 2019
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