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Jordan Sadler Speaks on Social Smarts

Children and their parents can face a variety of challenges navigating from birth through adulthood. We know we should be watching to ensure our children meet their milestones for crawling, walking, fine motor skills and even speech and language. But are you aware that there are similar milestones for social skills?

Jordan Sadler, a speech language pathologist, spoke to this issue at the November 2nd Resource Konnections workshop. During her presentation, Sadler identified stages from various methodologies and provided ideas on how to help children with social confidence and success.

“You can easily find identifiable stages for language development,” Sadler said “But you don’t see the same type of identifiable guidelines for social development and how that should be moving along over years. And that seems to be a primary concern for parents. We hope our children are doing well socially.”
Sadler emphasized that social communication development is concerned with symbolic expression and its successful usage. It is important to note that early skills provide the foundation and integrate into later skills rather than being replaced by them. The developmental stages of social language are:
• Interactive play and non-verbal communication
• Social language
• Conversation

Interactive play and Non-verbal Communication
From birth to 18 months, children should develop social language skills involving:
• Social play
• Imitation and modeling
• Parallel play
• Non-verbal communication
• Vocal communication

Indications that these skills are not developing appropriately may include:
• A low rate of initiation of or response to communication
• An inability to sustain attention (child may disengage very quickly)
• Replacement of narrative communication with instrumental communication (communication aimed solely at expressing his or her wants and needs)
Sadler emphasized the importance of teachers and parents monitoring interactions with the child to ensure we are not attempting to maintain too much control over conversation nor expecting too much, too soon. Some suggestions for facilitating appropriate verbal communication included interacting more frequently with the child’s behaviors, focusing on the relationship and social interactions rather than skills, and celebrating small steps. In addition, Sadler said with her own clients she incorporates sensory motor activities such as tunnels and beanbags at this stage to provide playful and joyful interactions.

Social Language
In this stage, from 18 months to three years, milestones are mostly involved with how the child uses language. The child should be developing the ability to use language to communicate spontaneously and be learning to initiate and maintain interactive play. One of the main developmental milestones is intentional pointing, which indicates that the child is developing Theory of Mind, or the understanding that other people have different thoughts, ideas, and feelings than we do.

Problems at this stage can be identified by observing:
• What the child says
• The reasons the child speaks
• What the child talks about

Indications that these skills are not developing appropriately may include:
• Echolalia, in which the child uses language only to recite, repeat or perform
• The child may consistently neglect to ensure that he or she has someone’s attention before initiating conversation
• The child may parallel play rather than play interactively
• The child may not be able to stay on topic

Sadler again cautions against attempting to dominate the play or expecting too much during this developmental time. She suggests modeling appropriate language skills for the child by making specific comments rather than asking questions that can be quickly answered ending the line of conversation, i.e. “Lunch smells so good and I’m so hungry. I’m sure looking forward to having lunch,” rather than “Are you hungry?” It’s important to observe, listen and match the child’s language levels before trying to push them to the next level.

This stage ranges from three-years-old to 10-years-old and then into adulthood. Social dialog increases with developing ability to assess another person’s interest in conversation, stay on a mutual topic, and take cues from the other person to direct the conversation.

Problems at this stage can be identified by:
• Observing whether the child enjoys conversing with others
• Stays on a mutual topic
• Converses for many reasons

Indications that these skills are not developing appropriately may include:
• Inability to tend to other people’s cues or take the other person’s perspective
• Over-attention to details with an inability to summarize
• Tendency to monologue.

At this stage, problems can lead to dysfunctional conversation styles and appear as social awkwardness, putting the individual at social risk. Interventions at this stage must be highly individualized to the child’s learning methods. Sadler emphasized the importance of visual aids and said that her personal motto is “When in doubt, draw it out!”

About Jordan Sadler
Jordan Sadler, MS, CCC/SLP, moved to Chicago four years ago, bringing along her already established practice, Communication Therapy, P.C. As the company’s director, Jordan describes the Chicago-based practice as serving families who are committed to improving the overall quality of their children’s communication skills across home, school and community settings. “Our philosophy is that all children can learn to be better social communicators when we meet them where they are developmentally and design strategies and tools that suit their individual learning profiles.”
Working in both school and private practice settings, Sadler said she draws from many pioneers in the field and incorporates a variety of approaches based on the needs of each individual child. These include SCERTS (Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, Transactional Supports) and DIR (Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship Based). In her presentation, Sadler also referred to the developmental stages of social language formulated by Dr. James MacDonald, publisher of COMMUNICATING PARTNERS, a national newsletter that provides updated guidelines for parents and professionals concerned about their children’s communication development.

IPad App:  Sentence Builder
IPad App: Story Patch
Book: Linda Mood Bell “Visualizing and Verbalizing”
Books: Michelle Winner Garcia “Superflex” series
Websites: (click on “autism” for great visuals!)