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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

What is Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder?

The DSM-V (the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) identified a disordered called social (pragmatic) communication disorder (SCD). This disorder is related to autism spectrum disorders and shares many of the same symptoms but has some differences, as well.


SCD is diagnosed from a qualified professional based upon the following DSM-V criteria:

A.      Persistent difficulties in the social use of verbal and nonverbal communication as manifested by all of the following:

1.       Deficits in using communication for social purposes, such as greeting and sharing information, in a manner that is appropriate for the social context.

2.       Impairment of the ability to change communication to match context or the needs of the listener, such as speaking differently in a classroom than on the playground, talking differently to a child than to an adult, and avoiding use of overly formal language.

3.       Difficulties following rules for conversation and storytelling, such as taking turns in conversation, rephrasing when misunderstood, and knowing how to use verbal and nonverbal signals to regulate interaction.

4.       Difficulties understanding what is not explicitly stated (e.g., making inferences) and nonliteral or ambiguous meanings of language (e.g., idioms, humor, metaphors, multiple meanings that depend on the context for interpretation).

B.      The deficits result in functional limitations in effective communication, social participation, social relationships, academic achievement, or occupational performance, individually or in combination.

C.      The onset of the symptoms is in the early developmental period (but deficits may not become fully manifest until social communication demands exceed limited capacities).

D.      The symptoms are not attributable to another medical or neurological condition or to low abilities in the domains or word structure and grammar, and are not better explained by autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder), global developmental delay, or another mental disorder.


Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder is primarily a deficit in the area of, as the name implies, social communication. The individual may have difficulties with conversation skills, they may either talk too much or may not talk enough to maintain a conversation with others.

The individual may not say “hi” or “bye” to others when appropriate. The individual might also have a hard time reading more into the words of the other person. For instance, they might not be able to make inferences about what the other person is really trying to say.

These difficulties result in problems with relationships such as with peers, significant others, family members, and/or coworkers.

Sometimes the difficulties aren’t really noticed until later on in life (like elementary school or even later) when the social demands exceed the skill set of the individual.

If you feel that you or your child might have some or all of the symptoms of social communication disorder and it is negatively impacting your (or your child’s) life, contact a therapist who can further assist you and provide you with an assessment to see if this disorder may be impacting you.

Reference: American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.)

Image Credit: Brian Jackson via Fotalia

What is Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder?

APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2016). What is Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 17, 2019, from