What is typical social communication?
Even though every child is different, there are typical skills that could be expected for children around certain ages.
Around 6 months of age
Smiling back at people
Trying to make eye contact with caregiver
Enjoying interacting and playing with caregiver
Imitating some movements or facial expressions
Responding to name
Being aware of familiar and unfamiliar people
Around age 1
Enjoying simple social games (such as peek-a-boo)
Following simple instructions
Making noise to get people's attention
Imitating sounds and gestures
Around age 2
Socializing and showing interest in other people than caregivers
Playing alongside others (parallel play)
Showing joint attention (for example, pointing at something than looking at caregiver to make sure they see it too)
Around age 3
Seeking out other people to play with
Taking turns into playing
Use imagination during play (but may confuse real and pretend)
Having some understanding of emotional states
Having a conversation (but it may be hard to stay on the same topic)
Following more complex instructions
Sharing objects and toys
Around age 4
Being interested in new experiences
Cooperating with other children
Around age 5
Wanting to please and be like friends
Agreeing to rules more willingly
Singing, dancing, and acting
Showing more independence
Starts to be able to distinguish fantasy from reality
From 6 years on, children tend to gradually improve their communication skills. They increasingly express their wants, needs, and thoughts effectively through an expanding vocabulary repertoire. They start engaging in to-and-fro conversations up to the point where they are able to engage in complex conversations and discussions. Playing with and hanging out with friends becomes increasingly important, and even though sometimes children may be mean to each other, they get better at sharing and cooperating, as well as maintaining and appreciating close relationships.
When should I be concerned about a child with social communication difficulties?
While all children develop their social skills at their own rate, they are expected to achieve their social milestones within a few months of one another. Caregivers may be concerned if their child exhibits any of the following:
- Little or no interest in spending time with caregivers.
- Refuses to respond to people in general, or responds only negatively or superficially.
- Little or no interest in playing with other children.
- Doesn’t engage in a variety of activities and seems to be unusually passive.
- Avoids or seems aloof with other children and adults.
- Is either easily distracted and unable to concentrate on any single activity for more than five minutes (when they are older than 3 years), or is extremely focused in one single activity without distracting from it.
- Continued independent play when peers are present without playing interactively.
- Difficulties following the rules of social games with peers (e.g., tag, hide-and-seek).
- Watching peers play from the periphery without joining in.
- Difficulties with playing imaginary games.
- Difficulties with turn taking during games.
- Not identifying regular peers or classmates as “friends” or identifying as “friends” classmates with whom the child has no personal relationship.
- Having trouble staying on topic during conversations.
- Insisting on talking about their own interest, regardless of whether others are talking about it.
- Difficulties with using nonverbal communication, including eye contact, facial expressions and gestures (like waving goodbye, blowing a kiss, pointing, clapping or gesturing “come here”).
- Difficulties with recognizing others’ emotions or intentions.
- Extremely fearful and timid behavior, or extremely aggressive behavior.
What can I do to help a child with social communication difficulties?
Caregivers know their children best. If you are a caregiver, you can help your child with difficulties in social interaction with a little support or coaching at home. So, there are a few things you may attempt:
- Pay close attention. Observe how your child communicates with other children or other adults. Children build communication skills rapidly at the beginning of their lives and, with each week that passes, a child with some difficulty can potentially fall behind his/her peers.
- Identify difficulties. Try to identify and note what types of difficulties in communication skills (e.g., using language, making eye contact, taking turns in playtime…) your child is struggling with.
- Emphasize positive social communication. Caregivers can model and emphasize appropriate playtime behaviors, such as turn taking or sharing during playtime, while explaining that friends expect the same behavior.
- Help children build their skills. Role playing and supervised playdates can be great for practicing different strategies for settling social conflicts or making friends for children with difficulties in social interaction.
- Demonstrate good social behavior. Children learn a lot from watching how their caregivers act, so using good social behavior when talking to family members and your own friends can be very beneficial.
- Set up a meeting with your child's teacher. If your child has been having a hard time interacting with other children, you may set up a meeting with his teacher. Children may not be able to describe why interactions have been difficult. Teachers can give a better sense of your child’s peer interactions and suggest more positive classmates for after-school playdates.
If you have already tried some or most of these suggestions and the problems your child is facing persist, it may be the moment to seek out professional support.
Social communication difficulties that are too frequent, present in different contexts, discrepant from those faced by children the same age, and that negatively interfere with your child and family’s daily lives may indicate the possibility of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
What kind of professional support can I seek out for help?
It is not unusual that some caregivers feel embarrassed, inadequate, or guilty when their children struggle with social communication skills. But, if you are concerned about your child, support and guidance are available now. Communicate concerns during and between visits with your child's doctor. This is because in early years every month passing counts a lot.
Pediatricians or family physicians can help to address initial concerns and refer to specialized professionals. Occupational therapists, speech-language therapists, and mental health professionals can help a child when they are struggling with social communication issues. These professionals also work with caregivers so that they know how to support their child in need outside of therapy sessions.
The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).
Where to find more information
Specific, detailed, and clinical information on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be found at [clinical short guide at the program website].
If you want to know more about the closest available services for educational and public health systems for children and adolescent assistance across the country, go to our Services Mapping webpage here.
You can also find more information by pointing your phone camera at the QR code below or by clicking here.