Social Communication

Social communication refers to how we interact with others. Examples of social behaviours often observed under this domain can be nonverbal (e.g. gestures, taking turns, eye gaze, body language, facial expressions) or use of language for social purposes (e.g. greeting others, staying on topic, maintaining conversation by asking and answering questions, making comments, etc.). Others often describe children with Down syndrome as being very socially motivated, meaning they report tremendous joy and a sense of belonging from connecting with others. With a higher percentage of children with Down syndrome being autistic, there may be differences in their social communication. To read more about social differences in students with DS and ASD, you can visit our Autism page

In the first year of life for children with a single diagnosis of Down syndrome, children are often seen interacting with others through nonverbal communication. For example, they may cry, smile, listen, look at others, vocalize and take turns. Young children with Down syndrome often take the same number of turns compared to typically developing children, with their turns being shorter in duration: 

Between 1-2 years of age, children with Down syndrome develop joint attention and gestures. Joint attention is when two people have shared focus on something and share observations. Children with Down syndrome show similar joint attention to typically developing children and higher rates of joint attention compared to other children with developmental disabilities and children with Autism 

Children with Down syndrome often prefer and rely on gestures, facial expressions, and body language to communicate as their speech and language skills develop. Children with Down syndrome often produce more gestures than typically developing children, suggesting strength in expressing themselves this way 

To communicate, children with Down syndrome may point, reach, wave, blow kisses, show, put their hands up, or push things away. Gestures aid in comprehension and expression in children with Down syndrome and are often associated with later comprehension and vocabulary development 

Between 2-5 years, children with Down syndrome may initiate more by pointing to request they want something and begin to comment on what they see using gestures that can lead to learning signs. If others don’t understand them, they may try to be understood by repeating themselves or showing. During school ages, they may begin to use language for other social purposes like sharing past events, asking or answering WH questions. They may enjoy telling jokes to make others laugh. 

As children develop into teens and adults, they may hold conversations for longer by asking questions, making comments, and staying on topic. They may get more creative when repairing a communication breakdown, like using different words to describe something, giving clues, or saying the first letter. Many adults with Down syndrome become more independent by employing visual aids to support social interactions, like using their phones or calendars to supplement conversations and holding a longer conversation on topics of interest. 

How does your loved one with Down syndrome interact with others in social situations? How do they take turns? Advocate for themselves? Initiate interactions? Greet peers? Share their thoughts? Ask questions? They may need some support to know what they can do or say. People in their social circles may also benefit from further education on how to support them in those situations best. For example, when you ask them a question, they may need you to give them some time to process or be given choices to support their memory of past events. Their ability to share with others or take part in longer conversations may benefit from practice and use of visual aids (i.e. signs, pictures, objects, drawings, etc.). 

DSRF Resources

The LowDOWN Podcast, Episode 4-7: Riley Rosebush, RSLP & Marie-Elise Marcoux – Express Yourself: Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) (Oct. 13, 2021)

Working on Conversational Skills at Home

Conversation Visuals

Other Resources

Social Thinking

Role Play Videos