How to Write Pragmatic Language Goals

Pragmatic Language Overview

Pragmatic language refers to social communication (aka - the language we use with others). This involves nonverbal communication like eye contact and verbal communication like using a farewell (e.g., “See ya later!”) to terminate a conversation. To some of us, these may seem like innate skills that we are able to effortlessly demonstrate across different communication partners, contexts, and environments. However, for many individuals, these skills are not as naturally ingrained or acquired.

Okay, but who are these individuals affected and what is the etiology of pragmatic language disorders? According to ASHA, “The cause of social communication disorder as a distinct diagnosis is not known. It is often defined in terms of the specific condition with which it is associated.”

Let’s take individuals with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), for example. We usually hear about individuals with ASD as having pragmatic language limitations, as it is a primary component to their clinical diagnosis. Autism Speaks refers to the ASD diagnosis as, “a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.” When we take a look at the parameters that are considered for a diagnosis, this is precisely aligned with deficits related to pragmatic language.

This brings us to the importance of teaching and enhancing these pragmatic language skills within therapy! While many individuals with autism have a clinical team of individuals they work with, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) often play a huge role because of how directly their needs tie into the realm of speech, language, and communication. It should also be noted that persons with autism aren’t the only individuals out there who may require pragmatic language intervention. Individuals with traumatic brain injury, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and/or intellectual disability (to name a few) may also present with pragmatic language disorder(s). So what is best practice for working on these skills? Well, we need to start with goals!

Writing Pragmatic Language Goals

If you haven’t already, check out our recent article that outlines How to Write Speech Therapy Goals. This post provides an in-depth template of our Communication Community goal writing formula (with examples)! For the purpose of this article, we will focus specifically on writing goals for increasing pragmatic language.

As seen above, speech goals should be written with 3 components in mind: the DO statement, the CONDITION statement, and the CRITERION statement.

DO statement

What the client is actually going to DO and the specific skill they will be working towards.

Example: maintain eye contact

CONDITION statement

The specific setting and/or context your client will work on this skill.

Example: for 3 or more conversational exchanges

CRITERION statement

How the client’s performance will be measured.

Example: within 90% of opportunities

DO + CONDITION + CRITERION

Example: [Client] will maintain eye contact for 3 or more conversational exchanges, within 90% of opportunities.

It is important to remember the big picture when working on pragmatic language goals: the overarching objective being to increase the individual’s ability to effectively and efficiently communicate their intended message across contexts and settings. As seen in the goal example above, we see just one part of many different areas that can be worked on pragmatic language-wise. To explore these pragmatic language skills a little further, ASHA divided social communication skills into 3 different pillars. We have outlined them in the table below:

3 Areas of Social Communication (ASHA)

Using Language How we use language - for reasons like delivering an informative message, making a request, or producing a greeting
Changing Language The way we change our language for the listener or situation - concepts like code switching
Following Rules* Standard social principles we follow - such as turn taking, repeating/rephrasing, body awareness, and eye contact

*It should be noted that a client may exhibit social differences based on their personal culture that may be inconsistent with the "rules" that we follow as a Western culture. These differences relating to their own sociocultural norms should NOT be considered a disorder.

Pragmatic Language Goal Bank

Using language

-Example #1: [Client] will relay a single-phrase/sentence message to an unfamiliar communication partner, in 3 out of 4 trials.

-Example #2: [Client] will make a request for 5 preferred items/activities, during structured activities, with 90% accuracy.

-Example #3: [Client] will use a novel greeting/farewell when initiating conversation to a peer, within 9 out of 10 opportunities.

Changing language

-Example #1: [Client] will adjust her vocal volume, across settings, within 4 out of 5 opportunities.

-Example #2: [Client] will initiate a topic of conversation based on his communication partners likes/interests, with a familiar communication partner, in 9 out of 10 trials.

-Example #3: [Client] will discriminate between phrases to use with a stranger versus a familiar individual, within conversationally-based activities, with 90% accuracy.

Following rules

-Example #1: [Client] will demonstrate appropriate body awareness when conversing with communication partners, in 4 out of 5 opportunities.

-Example #2: [Client] will participate in a conversation for 4 or more conversational turns, when talking to a peer, in 3 out of 4 trials.

-Example #3: [Client] will maintain the given topic of conversation, during a structured activity, with 90% accuracy.

Conclusion

The examples above provide some of the many pragmatic language goals that can be used within therapy. Since pragmatic language is a socially-based language, try to contrive situations for your client where these goals can be worked on as naturally as possible (or work up to this). Why? Well, if goals are worked on within a natural context, it is easier to generalize than if they were only targeted within a structured fashion. Or perhaps your client is at a skill level where they require direct (structured) instruction to be faded into a more organic conversational scenario. That is okay too! Whichever way you choose to target pragmatic language skills - it always starts off with writing the goal!

Have goal-related questions? Comment in the comment box below.  

Happy writing!

Citations/further resources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5398499/

https://pilotfeasibilitystudies.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40814-019-0456-z

https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism

https://www.asha.org/Practice-Portal/Clinical-Topics/Social-Communication-Disorders-in-School-Age-Children/

https://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/social-communication/

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