Social SkillsChildhood Communication

A series of articles written exclusively for OVL by Jacqui Wright

Independent Speech and Language therapist, Jacqui Wright, has over 22 years experience in South Africa, the U.S.A. and the UK. She is author of ‘Cracking the Literacy Puzzle’, RCSLT Bulletin, March 2006. Here, Jacqui from Childhood Communication Consultancy, based in Carlton, discusses Social Communication, and Stammering.

Childhood Communication Consultancy (CCC) specialises in assessing and treating children ages 0-19 years old with speech, language, listening, literacy, learning and social communication difficulties. As a child develops speech and language skills, he/she typically learns to use these to interact. This interaction, unique between human beings, is the basis of emotional connectedness through social communication. As the child develops towards being a teenager and into adulthood, this skill of communicating his/her emotions and managing social interactions is crucial for healthy and long lasting relationships: being successful at school and in the work-place, sustaining friendships, learning to negotiate with a boy/girl friend or spouse/partner, and interacting as a parent to a child. In our modern, changing and fluid society, a person’s adaptability based on good internal emotional health and strong external social connections with dynamic communication skills will stand them in good stead for success in all aspects of life.

Some people have difficulties with social and/or emotional communication; this spans across the whole intelligence quotient spectrum: genius to learning disabilities. It can be due to a wide range of factors: shyness, lack of confidence, lack of self esteem, lack of experience, being more ‘left’ brained and logical than ‘right’ brained and emotional, speech and language difficulties, childhood difficulties, auditory processing difficulties, traits of Asperger’s syndrome or autistic spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other reasons. Often they would prefer to communicate via technology in a two dimensional world i.e. computer, instant messaging, and texts, rather than face to face with other human beings. This face to face, three dimensional interactions, requires a lot of sophisticated and subtle skills which they find very difficult e.g. reading people’s faces and emotions; being able to answer appropriately to subtle inferences or humour in split second conversational responses.

Children, teens and adults with social and emotional communication difficulties may display some or all of the following:

  • Lack of self awareness and/or low self esteem; not comfortable emotionally within themselves (may be anxious, depressed, angry, self-harming, school refusing, have an eating disorder etc)
  • Poor nonverbal body language: doesn’t make eye contact during social interaction
  • Speech and language difficulties and/or stammering
  • Poor conversationalist: doesn’t listen, doesn’t ask questions, talks on the same topic continuously etc
  • Difficulty in developing or maintaining friendships
  • Doesn’t ‘fit’ within their peer group
  • Getting into trouble more than usual; acting inappropriately in social situations
  • Being bullied or bullying others to make themselves feel better
  • Difficulty interacting with others; ill at ease and/or quiet in social situations
  • Passive or aggressive, and awkward in a group situation

Social Communication Skills Therapy, which also addresses the emotional aspects, is usually done in peer groups of 2 to 4 children at our Practice or in schools and comprises of the following aspects:

1. Self Awareness and Self Esteem: The groups work on each child getting in tune with themselves and their emotions to know and value who they are; their strengths and weaknesses, what they like/dislike, qualities in themselves and others, their feelings (anxiety, anger etc) and handling them, and appreciation of the sum of who they are.

2. Body Language: This is a person’s strongest message; 55% of communication, which is non verbal, comes through your eye contact, facial expression, presentation, posture, distance and touch. The world’s best communicators have strong body language: a commanding presence reflecting confidence, competence, and charisma.

3. The Way we Talk: A person’s volume, rate, clarity, intonation and fluency (dysfluency is known as stammering/stuttering) makes up 38% of our communication. Stammering is “characterised by stoppages and disruptions in fluency which interrupt the smooth flow and timing of speech. These stoppages may take the form of repetitions of sounds, syllables or words, or of prolongations of sounds so that words seem to be stretched out, and can involve silent blocking of the airflow of speech when no sound is heard” (Enderby, 1996). People with stammers often avoid particular words, situations or try to hide their stammer. These clients require assessment and individual treatment. For more information, contact Jacqui and view: www.stammering.org

4. Conversations: The words we use surprisingly only contribute 7% to our total communication. However, choice of our words is very important to form our conversations. Conversations are made up of listening, taking turns, talking at the right time: to ask/answer questions/change the topic/clear misunderstandings/and end the conversation appropriately. They can also involve understanding inferences, double meanings of words and jokes, idioms, and using logic to reason and problem solve.

5. Friendships: Use of emotional and social communication skills are for friendship and other relationships that enrich our lives. Aspects of this include: developing a circle of friends who we trust, and owning responsibility to be a good friend ourselves; learning the qualities of a good friend and valuing others; how to negotiate through arguments/fights; handling anger and jealousy; how to cope with peer pressure and bullying.

6. Assertiveness: This brings all aspects of the social and emotional communication skills programme to a pinnacle; to be positively assertive, persuasive and influential rather than passive or aggressive. To be able to stand up for yourself by: expressing your feelings, saying ‘no’, disagreeing, apologising, requesting explanations, and also working collaboratively as part of a team.

Social communication difficulties can usually be successfully treated from 4 years old to 19 years old. Please contact Jacqui if you have any concerns about your child’s social and/or emotional communication skills, or stammering.

 

Jacqui Wright
Chief Consultant, Childhood Communication Consultancy
BSc (Log) Hons: Speech Pathology/Audiology
MRCSLT, Cert.HCPC, MASLTIP
jfwright.speechtherapy@btinternet.com
Tel: 01234 721 775 Mob: 079 566 855 81
www.childhoodcommunication.co.uk