What is Semantic Pragmatic Disorder?

Semantic Pragmatic Disorder (SPD) is a communication disorder. People with SPD often have difficulty processing information given to them and communicating socially appropriately. In addition, those with the condition might not understand the unwritten language rules. For example, they might not always understand sarcasm or figurative language.

The name comes from the words semantic and pragmatic. Semantic refers to the relationship between words and their meanings, while practical means the ability to make language make sense in context.

What are other names for Semantic Pragmatic Disorder?

Semantic Pragmatic Disorder is now diagnosed as Social Communication Disorder, but the two names both refer to the same thing. As with many learning differences, the names have changed over time.

What are the signs of Semantic Pragmatic Disorder?

Semantic Pragmatic Disorder is similar to Autism Spectrum Disorder in some ways. For example, there is an overlap in the difficulties with language that people with SPD and ASD face. However, people with SPD do not necessarily have the other behaviors often present in ASD, such as special interests, sticking to routines, and food selectivity.

The overall signs of SPD are that children have problems understanding what other people mean when speaking and speaking themselves.

Features that people with SPD might show are:

  • Delayed language development
  • Repeating phrases in the wrong context
  • Memorizing phrases as they learn to talk, rather than forming sentences of their own
  • Finding it hard to decide when to use “I” and “you” in sentences – getting pronouns wrong or mixed up
  • Finding it hard to understand different verb tenses and the time they are referring to
  • Difficulty understanding questions and answering them appropriately
  • Struggles with following conversations, including laughing at jokes later than everyone else
  • Stuttering or cluttering speech
  • Taking things literally, particularly idioms and figurative language
  • Reading body language

These things can all impact how people with SPD might make and maintain friendships because they struggle with language and communication. For example, people with SPD might have wide vocabularies and be quite talkative. If you listen closely, however, you might find that they are not using language appropriately. Again, it is because SPD is a communication and processing disorder rather than a language disorder.

How can people with SPD be supported?

Children’s needs can evolve, and SPD might be a stage in their development. However, they might struggle with communication for some time. It can cause unhappiness if they feel misunderstood and can’t communicate effectively.

Children with SPD may need to work with a Speech and Language Therapist to help them gain confidence and understanding around communication skills.

Here are some strategies that teachers and parents can use to support children with SPD:

  • Using very clear language to give instructions. For example, tell children to “put your clothes away and make your bed” rather than “tidy your room.”
  • Using a child’s name at the beginning of a sentence directed at them rather than expecting them to realize you are talking to them
  • Working in smaller groups to help children focus more easily
  • Being patient and allowing children as much time as they need to communicate
  • Encouraging children to ask for clarification if they haven’t understood what you are saying

Of course, these are only a few suggestions. It is best to work alongside a teacher or therapist to help children with SPD to improve their communication skills.

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