What are social communication needs?

Social communication enables individuals to share experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Social communication skills are needed for expression in language and for comprehension of nonverbal, spoken, written, and visual gestures.

Social communication needs are when a child or young person has persistent difficulties with the use of verbal and nonverbal language in social situations. In particular, with social interaction, social understanding, and language processing.

Examples can include eye contact, facial expressions, and body language but are defined by the individual’s manner of interaction. Examples of situation’s may be:

  • Adapting interaction and communication to the social environment and person
  • Understanding social rules in interaction
  • Misinterpretation of nonliteral language

Social communication needs may result in a spectrum of need, impacting on participation in social settings, developing relationships, understanding, and achieving in education, and being able to recognise the expectations within employment.

For some social communication needs can lead to a social communication difficulties (SCD) diagnosis and may co-occur with other neurodiverse conditions.

In the case of autism, social communication needs are one of the defining feature’s that can lead to an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis. The other key feature is restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviour.

Understanding autism

Videos may help to introduce Autism

Find out more from the National Autistic Society

One in 100 people are autistic and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Autism is a considered a spectrum condition and affects individuals in very different ways. Like all people, autistic people have their own strengths and differences.

Historically there have been several different titles given at the point of diagnosis. Receiving a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, classic autism or even high functioning autism. Nowadays there is one medical diagnosis/description given, autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

To receive a diagnosis of ASD a person will need to present with differences in the areas of:

  • Social communication and social interaction
  • Repetitive and restrictive behaviours

Autistic people may also be over or under-sensitive to sensory stimulation or fluctuate between the two. They may be highly focused on particular interests or hobbies and many report struggling with high anxiety levels, especially in social situations. One in three autistic adults will struggle with their mental health and wellbeing.

Those assigned male at birth are more likely to receive a diagnosis than those assigned female at birth. The ratio is thought to be three to one. Girls and women may present differently to boys and men and are known to mask their challenges, especially in social situations.

Read our Do you know …? guide for families with children and teenagers who have social and communication difficulties including autism.


Neurodiversity is a relatively new term, thought to have been coined in the 1990s by Judy Singer, an autistic individual, parent of an autistic child and sociologist.

It was originally used by the autistic community, who were keen to move away from the medical model and dispel the belief that autism is something to be treated and cured, rather than an important and valuable part of human diversity.

The idea of neurodiversity has now been embraced by many other groups, who are using the term as a means of empowerment and to promote the positive qualities possessed by those with a neurodevelopmental difference.

It encourages people to view neurodevelopmental differences as natural and normal variations of the human genome. Furthermore, it encourages them to reject the culturally entrenched negativity which has typically surrounded those that live in, learn from and experience the world in a particular way that is sometimes perceived as different.