Why does my daughter struggle with social skills?
Q. My 7-year-old daughter seems to struggle in social situations. She has a hard time participating in conversations, sometimes commenting on something that is completely unrelated to the topic being discussed. When she speaks to others, she avoids making eye contact and often comes across confusing as she tells stories in a very disorganized, disjointed fashion. I’m concerned that her difficulty in social situations will prevent her from making friends and interacting with her peers. What could be the issue? What can we do about it?
A. It sounds like your daughter may have a social language impairment based on your description of your her behaviors. This type of impairment is known as a pragmatic language disorder. If this is the case, then you are absolutely correct in being concerned about this impacting her ability to interact with peers, make friends, and succeed in school.
Children with pragmatic language disorders have difficulty using spoken language in socially appropriate ways. These children are able to pronounce words and formulate sentences correctly, but they struggle to participate in conversations. Some children with this impairment may take over conversations and interrupt often while others may not talk at all and will actively avoid eye contact.
While all children may struggle with social situations at times, children with pragmatic language impairments have difficulty in these situations on a daily basis. Signs of a pragmatic language disorder can show up early during the preschool years but typically become more apparent during the elementary school years. Let’s look at some common signs of a pragmatic language disorder:
Signs of a pragmatic language disorder include:
History of expressive and/or receptive language delays
Decreased interest in social interactions
Difficulty staying on topic
Inability to adapt language to different listeners (e.g. speaking to young friends and adults in the same manner)
Difficulty understanding abstract language concepts such as idioms