Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Elizabeth Skarakis-Doyle


Introduction: Social communication is a complex and dynamic construct that is an important component of human functioning. However, an agreed upon conceptual understanding of social communication within the field of Speech-Language Pathology has been a persistent challenge. Among main issues that obscure our current understanding are those pertaining to terminology, classification, and the boundaries of social communication within social skill. All three impede the advancement of knowledge and sound clinical application. Therefore, the objective of the current study was to investigate the conceptual foundations of social communication.

Method: Two approaches were taken to begin to address these issues. The Delphi technique, an iterative survey method intended to obtain consensus, was employed in Study 1. A panel of 9 social communication experts worked to attain consensus on the key features of social communication in comparison to the related term ‘pragmatics’ through 3 rounds of questioning. In Study 2, 56 speech-language pathologists rated social skills using a visual analog scale for their representativeness of social communication.

Results: The results of Study 1 indicated that social communication and pragmatics are distinct terms, despite sharing all key features and drawing from the same knowledge/processing domains. Participants also proposed future directions for investigating how the terms differ. The results of Study 2 showed that social skills are nuanced in their representation of social communication. Peer-related skills of leadership and empathy, as well as others that entailed expressive speech acts, were the social skills most representative of social communication, and social skills involving compliance to adult-imposed tasks and activities were least representative of social communication. Social skills involving response to speech acts, self-management, and compliance to adult-imposed rules and expectations were not clearly distinguished as representative or not of social communication.

Conclusion: The integrated results of Study 1 and Study 2 have shown that the issues of terminology, classification, and boundaries are interdependent. Initial advances towards addressing these issues were made by determining that social communication and pragmatics are distinct but related, and that the boundaries of social communication and social skill are nuanced. Future directions for the continued investigation of social communication are discussed.