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Development disorders (social communication difficulties)

Children and young people with social communication difficulties can have problems understanding what other people mean. Communication is about how we use language, our body language, facial expression and tone of voice to communicate with someone else.

Children with these difficulties may find it hard to understand the messages we give to each other without speaking, such as the meaning we put into our voice, the expressions on our faces, and gestures such as waving, pointing or shrugging.
Eye contact is another important part of non-speaking communication, and most of us do this without thinking about it. Children with social communication difficulties may not know instinctively how and when to give eye contact.

Sometimes children have social interaction and communication difficulties on their own, without other developmental problems.

Social communication developmental disorders

  • Communication disorders which affect an individual’s ability and capacity to communicate. Communication is an important aspect of making sense of the world. Communication disorders include mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, expressive language disorder, phonological disorder, and stuttering.
  • Autism spectrum disorders are a type of neurodevelopmental disorder.  People living with autism spectrum disorders can exhibit difficulties in interacting with others, expressing or comprehending verbal and non-verbal communication, and might have noticeably restrictive or repetitive behaviours.
  • Specific learning disorders and difficulties. This group of developmental disorders can greatly affect the persons learning abilities and academic functions and are diagnosed by a professional. The most common are dyslexia (problems with reading), dyscalculia (problem with mathematics) and dysgraphia (problems with writing).
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is also known as ADHD. It can affect the child or young person’s control over attention and inhibitions. ADHD can severely limit a child or young person’s development.

Autism (Autistic Spectrum Disorder)

Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have difficulties in three main areas:

Communication and language:

  • difficulties with social use of language
  • cannot start or keep conversations going
  • inappropriate facial expressions and body language
  • literal interpretation of speech
  • not understanding jokes and sarcasm
  • limited or unusual pretend play
  • unusual or repetitive language
  • speech difficulties.

Social and emotional understanding:

  • lack of awareness of others’ feelings
  • lack of empathy
  • absent or unusual
  • eye-contact, gestures and expressions
  • difficulties with friendships
  • difficulty working with others
  • does not spontaneously share interest and enjoyment with others
  • if distressed does not seek comfort.

Flexibility of thought and behaviour:

  • dislikes change
  • difficulty with problem solving
  • likes rigid routines
  • obsession with particular objects or subjects
  • restricted range of interests
  • unusual or repetitive gestures or actions.

Within the population as a whole, people have a range of these difficulties. When these are marked and cause a child significant difficulties it is useful to think about how best to describe the difficulties (the diagnostic process).

For a diagnosis of ASD it is necessary to have significant difficulties in all three of these areas. Children have individual patterns of strengths and difficulties; the way they present can vary widely. Some children have some difficulties in one or more of these areas, but not all of them, and so don’t have a diagnosis of full Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

Children can be diagnosed with an ASD when they’re quite young – in some cases from the age of about two years. But not everyone is diagnosed early in life. It’s common for older children and adults to be diagnosed with an ASD; particularly those children who have fewer problems with speaking and learning.