What is Social Communication Disorder? How can it be treated?


Social Communications Disorder (SCD) is a new diagnostic category that has been added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) by The American Psychiatric Association.

It is used as a diagnosis for individuals who have communication difficulties in a natural, social setting. Such individuals with SCD usually find it difficult to use verbal and nonverbal communication, often impacting their social relationships.

Because the diagnosis may seem slightly confusing, we decided to clear up a few questions/concerns you may have, through this blog article.

First off, it must be noted that some (not all) children who may have received a diagnosis of autism as per the DSM-IV would now receive the new diagnosis of SCD. However, this is not a factor to worry about as SCD is only an update in the DSM manual. Speech-language therapists already have ample experience and evidence-based treatments available for SCD.

Social interaction, social understanding, and pragmatics are the problems encompassed by SCD. Using language in a proper context refers to pragmatics. For example, the ability to use language and tone differently when playing with a younger child versus when speaking to an elderly person is important.

Symptoms & Causes of Social Communication Disorder (SCD)

SCD symptoms become noticeable during early childhood. These become apparent with the struggles the child faces in their social life and their academic experience. A commonly cited challenge is managing anxiety, due to which the child separates him/herself from taking part in social environments.

Main symptoms are

  1. Problem in using verbal and nonverbal communication in social situations

  2. Finding it hard to adapt to the communication style of the person he/she is communicating with, and in a way that suits the context of the conversation

  3. Inability to follow basic social rules

  4. Finding it hard to understand implied messages

As far as causes go, experts predict that there may be a genetic component contributing to the development of SCD, as there have been studies showing that individuals diagnosed with SCD sometimes have other family members that have been diagnosed with communication disorders. However, given that it is a new diagnosis, there is still room for more research to be conducted before one can definitively state causes for SCD.

How is SCD diagnosed?

SCD is diagnosed based on difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication skills. This includes:

  1. Answering to questions and using gestures like waving or pointing.

  2. Ability to take turns while playing and communicating

  3. Ease in expressing emotions

  4. Staying on a particular topic

  5. Changing speech according to situation and people

  6. Responding with relevant ideas and asking questions during conversation

  7. Using different words for different purposes such as greeting, making promises, etc.

  8. Making new friends and maintaining friendships

Now that we have established the fact that ASD and SCD involve difficulty in communication skills, it is important to know that SCD has an additional characteristic of repetitive behavior hence, while evaluating SCD, ASD is ruled out.

There are many symptoms that overlap between ASD and SCD, making differential diagnosis a slightly more complicated process. It should also be noted that ASD can occur along with other developmental issues like language impairment, learning disabilities, speech/sound disorder, and attention deificit hyperactivity disorders .

Treatment for Social Communication Disorder

There is no cure for SCD as of yet. While this may sound disheartening, there is no need to lose hope.

Many medical centers have speech and language pathologists and professionals who are well trained to assess and provide treatment for communication problems. Teachers and speech-language pathologists collaborate to help children develop their communication skills.

Also, we can develop augmentative and alternative communication for individuals who are minimally verbal. It can be as easy as showing pictures or as hi-tech as using a speech-generating computer or tablet.

Children can receive treatment for SCD in a variety of settings:

  • Speech-language pathologists are employed by school and Clinics to provide required services as a part of early intervention and special education programs.

  • Various clinics and children's hospitals offer social communication services, where a dedicated therapist provides and implements strategies which will help in improving your child's communication skills.

A thorough treatment plan, devised by trained and experienced speech therapists, can help children overcome challenges and navigate difficult circumstances.

Based upon the child’s specific needs, a speech pathologist can create a therapeutic plan, as well recommend certain tools in order to amplify the treatment process. An effective program may include components such as:

  1. Social skills training which teaches the child required skills to engage with others in social settings

  2. Cognitive behavioral therapy in order to help reduce anxiety and intense emotions

  3. Suitable medication for pre-existing conditions

  4. Therapies, such as speech and language therapy, for children with pragmatic speech problems

  5. Support and training for parents

Professional help is crucial. Children with SCD need professional help in developing their social interaction skills. To learn more about SCD or about evidence-based treatments that are available, please do not hesitate to contact Stepping Stones Center.

#SCD #SocialCommunicationDisorder #DSMV #diagnosis

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