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Supporting Children's Social Communication Needs

Social communication refers to the social use of language and the ability to use and interpret language and behaviour with others, in order to have successful communication.

This can be divided into verbal or non-verbal communication, social understanding and receptive and expressive language skills. A child or young person may have difficulties understanding social situations and responding to normal environmental and social cues. They may struggle to interact with other people. Switching their attention between people and activities. They may misinterpret and eye contact, facial expressions and body language. These will have an impact on them being able to listen and pay attention to their environment and therefore react as expected.

Resources To Support Children In School

Use the resources to find help and support for a child struggling with social communication:

  • In children and young people, a friend promotes positive social, cognitive and emotional development and is associated with an increased sense of wellbeing. Having a friend increases a sense of belonging to school and more positive perceptions of school. It is linked to stronger academic performance.

    Use the tips and resources below to help a child who is struggling to maintain and keep friendships

    • Observe the child in the playground and classroom. See who they play with and how they interact. This can provide clues about behaviours that cause friendship difficulties.
    • Meet privately with the child to discuss their friendship issues. This might be for five minutes before school or lunch. A regular check-in each week, fortnight or month may be beneficial. This will reduce the time spent helping the child throughout the year with entrenched friendship, peer acceptance or behaviour issues.
    • If the child has not approached you with the issue, first explain why you are talking with them. Talk sensitively about what you have observed in the playground or classroom, rather than what you think. Be specific. For example, ‘I noticed you have been sitting by yourself at lunchtime for the last week.’

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  • Children with language difficulties can find it difficult to cope in a busy classroom environment.

    Use the tips  and resources below to help a support a child's learning in the classroom:

    Social stories are short descriptions of situations, events or activities,   which help a person know what to expect in those situations. They can   be illustrated with pictures or photos. Social stories could be used to:

    •  Help them understand how others might behave in different school   situations
    •  Help them cope with changes to routine / unexpected events
    •  Give strategies for behaviour (eg. What to do when angry, upset etc)
    •  Give positive feedback on their areas of strength – improved self-esteem

    To find out more about social stories *click here*.

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  • A person with social communication problems may:

    • Say the wrong thing or act the wrong way when talking. He may laugh at the wrong time or start talking about something else.
    • Tell stories that do not make sense.
    • Use language in limited ways. They may not say hello, goodbye, or thank you. She may yell instead of asking for what she wants.

    Use the tips and resources below to help a child who is struggling to understand social rules:

    • Use everyday situationsGive your child chances to practice good social communication during the day. For example, practice staying on topic by talking about school. Have your child ask others what they want to eat for dinner to practice asking questions.
    • Role-play conversations - Pretend to talk to different people in different situations. For example, have the child explain the rules of a game to different people. Show them how they should talk to a child or an adult. Or, how she would talk to a family member or a stranger.

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  • For most children school is an important part of their early social life. Being isolated from this can cause problems for them later in life.

    Use the tips and resources below to help a child who is struggling to engage with their peers:

    • Try to figure out why the child is isolated.
    • Arrange social interactions with classmates

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    similar to the making and keeping friendships?


  • Provision Expected at SEN Support (PEaSS) guidance contains specific information on different types SEN. Information includes suggested whole school approaches and support strategies for the classroom.


    Talkabout is a structured programme for teaching and measuring social skills. It is a whole scheme of work which helps you assess, teach and measure your work easily. It uses a hierarchical method of teaching social skills and includes activities and plans for interventions. Talkabout resources were produced by Alex Kelly, a speech therapist.

    Emotional Literacy Support Assistants (ELSA)

    ELSA is an intervention for promoting the emotional wellbeing of children and young people. This is a training programme support assistants can complete; the programme targets developing a child or young person’s social skills, emotional regulation, anxieties and worries and training also covers the area of autism.

    Thrive Approach

    Thrive promotes children’s and young people’s positive mental health by helping adults know how to be and what to do in response to their differing and sometimes distressed behaviour. Adopting the Thrive Approach in secondary settings delivers significant positive changes through helping young people understand the changes happening in their brains and bodies during adolescence.

    Zones Of Regulation

    The Zones of Regulation provides a common language and compassionate framework to support positive mental health and skill development for all, while serving as an inclusion strategy for neurodiverse learners, those who have experienced trauma, and/or have specific needs in terms of social, emotional, and behavioural development. ZoR is a useful tool to support children and adolescents with social communication difficulties, supporting self-regulation and emotional control.

    Autism Education Trust (AET)

    The Autism Education Trust (AET) has developed a set of Early Years competency and standards frameworks. The AET Framework Documents can be used by anyone working alongside autistic pupils to support the development of good autism practice. 

    Autism Resource Suite

    The Autism Resource Suite outlines guidelines, resources and practical strategies for education professionals supporting autistic learners. These resources such as promoting autism inclusive attitude, supporting transition etc were co-developed with autistic young people.

    Autism Spectrum Toolkit

    This Autism Toolkit aims to be a 'one stop shop' user-friendly guide to autism for professionals, people affected by autism, clinical commissioning groups, as well as interested members of the public. The link includes articles and research as well as practical and useful checklists and resources.

    Essex Provision Guidance Toolkit

    The toolkit and guidance includes specific guidance about provision for children with social communication difficulties and autism. The framework can be used to identify good provision for children with a range of needs including social communication.

How Can We Help?

Just One Number Call to speak to a health professional by phoning 0300 300 0123. They will be able to provide initial advice and support and guide next steps with us or signpost you to other more relevant agencies and professionals. It is available 08.00 to 18.00 Monday to Friday and 09.00 to 13.00 on Saturdays.

Referrals for support are made by contacting Just One Number on 0300 300 0123. Please make sure you have the consent of the parent and / or young person before you make a referral to us. You do not need to fill out any paperwork prior to this call.

Referrals are made via the telephone to enable us to have an informative conversation with you at the point of referral so we can ensure we have all the required information for early triage and assessment of the child, young person or family. This will ensure the referral gets managed by the appropriate team in a more timely way or we can signpost you to a more appropriate service.

ChatHealth Children and Young people can access us through our text messaging service on 07480635060. They will be able to discuss any health concerns with one of our Practitioners and also be able to request an appointment if they would prefer to meet with us.

Parent Line Parents can access our services by texting our number 07520631590. This allows them to access the advice and support from a clinician about any health issues affecting their children aged 0-19.

Just One Norfolk Health Passport app Young people age 16-19 can download this app on Apple or Android phones. It provides young people age 16-19 with general health information and advice to increase health literacy. It signposts to services and promotes self care. It aims to increase resilience and wellbeing and to find out how to access health services.

Ask a Norfolk Parent - Parents can be signposted to this. It is a carefully monitored online community forum which allows local parents and carers to talk with each other regarding issues affecting their children. This can be accessed through our Just One Norfolk website.

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