Saturday, 23 April 2011

Is my child being rude? .... may be not!

Picture the scene.... your 10 year old points to a rather large lady in the supermarket and says, 'She's got an enormous bottom!' You're shocked and highly embarrassed that your child could be so rude. But it may not be rudeness, it might be that he doesn't know how to use language appropriately in social situations and was just being honest. Many of the children I work with have such problems and I have to quite thick skinned on occasion!

A child may be able to use long complicated sentences with excellent vocabulary, no speech sound difficulties but still have a communication problem - it may be that has not mastered the rules for social language, also called pragmatic use of language or pragmatics 

Pragmatics involve three major communication skills:

  • Using language for different purposes, such as
    • greeting (e.g. hello, goodbye)
    • informing (e.g. I'm going home)
    • demanding (e.g. Take me home)
    • promising (e.g. I'm going to take you home)
    • requesting (e.g. I would like to go home, please)
  • Modifying language according to the needs of a listener or situation, such as
    • giving background information to an unfamiliar listener
    • speaking differently in a classroom than on a playground
  • Following rules for conversations and storytelling, such as
    • taking turns in conversation
    • introducing topics of conversation 
    • staying on topic
    • starting conversations appropriately
    • finishing conversations e.g. not walking away mid-sentence
    • how to use and read verbal and nonverbal signals
    • how close to stand to someone when speaking
    • how to use facial expressions and eye contact
These rules vary across cultures and within cultures. It is important to understand the rules of your communication partner. In a previous job, I employed Eastern European staff and was un-prepared for the differences especially in inter-personal space.

An individual with pragmatic problems may:

  • say inappropriate or unrelated things during conversations
  • tell stories in a disorganised way
  • have 'boring language' with little variety in language use
Younger children will have difficulties with this, we all have examples of our 3 year olds where they've have hugely embarrassed us by telling a complete stranger on the phone that 'Mummy's having  a poo!'  or such-like. However, if problems in social language use occur often and seem inappropriate considering the child's age, a pragmatic disorder may exist. 

Children with autism will have difficulty with social use of language but it does not mean that someone with social language problems necessarily has ASD. Pragmatic disorders will often appear alongside other language problems such as word-finding difficulties. These problems can lead to isolation and avoidance by others. 
Speech and language therapists can assess to see if there is a problem, decide the extent of the difficulty, look at any additional factors and draw up an action plan to help. 

I really like the work of British Therapist Alex Kelly, who has some excellent resources see links below.

If you are concerned about your child's social communication or any other aspect of their speech, language or communication or check the yellow pages for the nearest NHS clinic.

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