Pragmatic language is the social use of language, or how it is used in everyday communication. Whereas receptive language is the understanding of language, and expressive language is the output of language, pragmatic language incorporates the social aspect of both types.
Pragmatic language looks at how language is used in specific environments and across communication partners.
This may include how an individual speaks with their peers, caregivers, teachers, or medical professionals. For example, you would probably communicate differently with a 3-year-old than with a grandparent. In previous posts, we have dove deeper into pragmatic language and its importance, which we recommend checking out for more information! This post also includes pragmatic language milestones for different ages.
Many individuals with autism or developmental disabilities may have pragmatic language deficits and would benefit from intervention to develop these skills (if desired). As a parent or caregiver, you may want to support your loved one’s pragmatic language development but are not sure exactly how to do so. In this post, we will break down ways to support pragmatic language development, which includes modeling and role-playing these skills.
Supporting Pragmatic Language
If you have concerns about an individual’s pragmatic language skills, we recommend a speech-language evaluation provided by a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP). Be sure to mention that you are concerned about pragmatic language skills! Following an evaluation, if speech and language intervention is recommended, pragmatic language goals may be included.
Speech & Language Intervention:
If your loved one is currently receiving intervention for speech and language, and an evaluation has indicated they may have pragmatic language needs, you may double check with the SLP that developing pragmatic language skills are a part of their goals and intervention plans.
It is important to note that "typical" pragmatic language skills may be impacted by cultural backgrounds. What is considered "typical" to one person may seem different to another person, and these differences should be respected. We support neurodiversity-affirming practices and don't believe all individuals with pragmatic language difficulties *need* nor want intervention.
A blog post can only go so far - the SLP providing intervention and you know the individual better than we do! We recommend consulting with your SLP to see what they suggest for supporting pragmatic language development for your loved one. Research has demonstrated that collaboration between the SLP and caregivers has a positive effect on an individual’s speech and language development and treatment! This may also be known as family-centered practice, which, among many other points, includes “teaching families interaction skills to support and manage behavior and the development of communication and language.” (ASHA)
Additional pragmatic language recommendations:
Whether or not your loved one is receiving intervention, there are still many things you can do to support pragmatic language development. Research supports the notion that supporting skills in naturalistic or everyday settings (e.g. at home, during play, and daily activities) is beneficial and effective.
Though we provide recommendations below, we do not advise forced participation. If someone does not feel like communicating about anything besides their favorite TV show or does not feel like communicating about anything, then these desires should be honored.
Topic maintenance skills:
If staying on topic for a conversation is a skill an individual is developing, you may ask them to say three things about a favorite game, TV show, or school day to work on stating information about a specific topic. In our Best of...June post about webs, we talked about how we use webs in our sessions when working on topic maintenance.
If commenting on or asking questions about different situations is a developing skill, you may encourage an individual to make a comment by saying, “tell me more about [keyword]…” or asking a question, such as, “what did you do?”
Model, model, model! Demonstrate the pragmatic language skills your loved one is developing. You likely do this already, but being more intentional about it can be helpful as well. For example, if they are working on asking on-topic questions, you may have them pick a topic and then you ask the on-topic questions.
While role-playing is not as naturalistic or a part of everyday situations, it can still be helpful and beneficial for individuals. If they are working on requesting specific wants and needs, you may spend some time role-playing that. For example, if an individual does not often ask for help or assistance from teachers or other direct support professionals, you can pretend you are the teacher or support staff and they practice asking you for help.
Being involved in speech and language intervention can help an individual SO much, and we hope that this post has provided more insight and direction into supporting their pragmatic language development. For more resources on pragmatic language, we suggest you explore our pragmatic language tag.