What Is Social Communication Disorder (SCD)?

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Social communication disorder (SCD) is characterised by persistent difficulties with the use of verbal and nonverbal language for social purposes. The main difficulties may be seen in social interaction, social understanding, pragmatics, language processing and often a combination.

What is Social Communication Disorder (SCD)?

Social Communication Disorder (SCD) is a neurodevelopmental condition characterised by persistent difficulties in using verbal and nonverbal communication skills in social interactions. Individuals with SCD struggle to comprehend and appropriately apply the rules of communication, leading to challenges in forming and maintaining relationships.
People with SCD may encounter difficulties in various aspects of communication, such as understanding and using gestures, facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. They may have trouble initiating or sustaining conversations, interpreting social cues, and adjusting their communication style based on the context.

At what age is SCD typically diagnosed?

Social Communication Disorder (SCD) is typically diagnosed in early childhood, with signs becoming more apparent as a child engages in social interactions. While there isn’t a specific age criterion for diagnosis, challenges in social communication often become noticeable as children reach the age when social skills development becomes more crucial. Diagnosis may occur around nursery or early school years when children are expected to navigate more complex social situations. However, in some cases, SCD may not be identified until later in childhood such as in secondary school when social demands intensify. Early diagnosis is beneficial for implementing targeted interventions, such as speech and language therapy, to support the development of effective communication skills and improve social interactions. Nevertheless, individuals with SCD may also be diagnosed in adolescence or adulthood if their difficulties in social communication become more evident or if they seek professional evaluation for persistent challenges surrounding communication issues.

What are the characteristics and symptoms of SCD?

Social Communication Disorder (SCD) is characterised by persistent difficulties in social communication across various contexts. Individuals with SCD may exhibit a range of symptoms and characteristics that impact their ability to effectively engage in social interactions. Some common characteristics and symptoms include:

  • Difficulty with Communication:
    • Difficulty using verbal and nonverbal communication for social purposes, such as greeting people, initiating conversations, and maintaining interactions.
  • Difficulties with Conversation:
    • Challenges in back-and-forth communication, taking turns in conversation, and responding appropriately to social cues such as knowing when to respond or what relevant information to respond with.
  • Difficulties with Nonverbal Communication:
    • Limited use and understanding of seemingly normal gestures, a lack of appropriate facial expressions, and body language to convey and interpret relevant information to the conversation.
  • Difficulty Adjusting Communication to Different Contexts:
    • SCD individuals may struggle to adapt communication style based on the social context, leading to challenges in understanding and using appropriate language for different situations.
  • Literal Interpretation of Language:
    • Tendency to interpret language literally, which can result in difficulties understanding figurative language, sarcasm, or nuances in communication.
  • Difficulty Making and Maintaining Relationships:
    • Challenges forming and sustaining friendships due to difficulties in initiating and maintaining social connections.
  • Lack of Social Imagination:
    • Limited ability to engage in imaginative play and difficulty understanding and participating in pretend play or social scenarios (more noticeable in early developmental years).
  • Limited Interests in Socially Shared Activities:
    • Preference for solitary activities or limited engagement in activities that involve shared interests with peers.

The severity of symptoms can vary widely among individuals with SCD. Interestingly, SCD is only diagnosed when these difficulties are not better explained by other conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder or ADHD. Early identification and intervention, often involving speech and language therapy, play a crucial role in supporting individuals with SCD in developing more effective social communication skills.

What is the distinction between SCD and autism spectrum disorder?

Social Communication Disorder (SCD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are both neurodevelopmental disorders that involve challenges in social communication. Although they present with similar characteristics they are distinct diagnoses with some key differences.

  • The primary difficulty in SCD lies in social communication, where individuals may struggle with using verbal and nonverbal communication for social purposes. Language development, as well as cognitive and play skills, is generally within the expected range.
  • ASD is a broader spectrum disorder that encompasses difficulties not only in social communication but also in changes in routines, repetitive behaviours, special interests, and sensory sensitivities. Individuals with ASD may display a wider range of challenges that extend beyond just social communication.

Diagnostic Criteria:

  • SCD is characterised by difficulties in the social use of verbal and nonverbal communication, without the presence of repetitive behaviours or restricted interests that are characteristic of ASD.
  • Diagnosis of ASD requires the presence of social communication challenges, sensory issues, special interests and issues with change in routine. The severity of symptoms can vary widely within the spectrum.


  • There can be some overlap between SCD and ASD, as social communication difficulties are a common feature in both. However, the crucial distinction lies in the absence of the broader spectrum of behaviours and interests associated with ASD in individuals with SCD.

Treatment Approaches:

  • Supporting individuals with SCD often focuses on improving social communication skills, including speech and language therapy, and social skills training tailored to communication challenges.
  • Supporting individuals with ASD is more varied and may involve an approach from multiple angles, addressing not only social communication but also behavioural challenges and coping strategies for sensory sensitivities.

In summary, while both SCD and ASD involve difficulties in social communication, SCD specifically focuses on these challenges without the additional characteristics seen in the broader spectrum of autism. Proper diagnosis by a qualified medical professional is essential to differentiate between the two disorders to put in the most appropriate and beneficial support.

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What is the impact of SCD on social interactions?

Social Communication Disorder (SCD) significantly influences social interactions by impeding communication in various ways. Individuals with SCD often struggle to initiate and sustain conversations, interpret nonverbal cues, and adapt their communication to different social contexts. Literal interpretation of language and challenges in social activities may lead to misunderstandings and difficulties in engaging with others. This difficulty extends beyond personal relationships, affecting academic and work settings where collaboration and social integration are highly important. The impact varies among individuals, but social isolation and feelings of loneliness are not uncommon. Early childhood intervention, such as speech and language therapy, can play a pivotal role in developing effective communication strategies and improving overall social interaction skills. Addressing these challenges early on, enables individuals with SCD to improve their ability to navigate social situations, form meaningful connections, and participate to a fuller degree in various aspects of life.

Coping strategies and therapeutic approaches

Coping strategies and therapeutic approaches for individuals with Social Communication Disorder (SCD) centre around improving social communication skills and overall well-being. Speech and language therapy is a key intervention, focusing on expressive and receptive language as well as pragmatic language use. Social skills training offers structured programs covering conversation initiation, nonverbal cue interpretation, and adapting to diverse social settings. Visual supports like social stories aid comprehension of social expectations, while role-playing and modelling provide practical experience. Cognitive-behavioural therapy addresses anxiety related to social interactions, modifying negative thought patterns. Peer-mediated interventions involve peers in supportive learning environments. Parent and caregiver training enhances home support, and technology-assisted interventions offer engaging platforms for skill practice. Personal Education Plans in schools cater to specific needs. Encouraging special interests can motivate social engagement. Employing a tailored combination of these strategies facilitates significant progress in social communication skills and enhances the overall quality of life for individuals with SCD. Regular monitoring ensures ongoing effectiveness


Addressing the complexities of Social Communication Disorder (SCD) requires a comprehensive strategy. Speech therapy, social skills training, and visual support target difficulties in initiating conversations, interpreting nonverbal cues, and adapting to various social contexts. Cognitive-behavioural therapy tackles anxiety-related challenges, while technology-assisted interventions offer engaging platforms. Incorporating peers and caregivers, recognizing special interests, and individualised education plans enrich this holistic approach, fostering meaningful progress in social communication skills for those navigating the intricacies of Social Communication Disorder.

If you feel like you have some of the characteristics mentioned it is worth taking our autism test.

Blog Author

Izy Winter