Understanding Communication Styles

Understanding the nuances of social communication can be challenging for all kids. It can be particularly difficult for neurodiverse learners.

Expressing how we feel, sharing a joke we think someone would get a kick out of, and being able to empathize with others when they speak with us, are just some of the wonderful benefits of friendship.

But social communication is complicated.

We may not realize it but things like word choice, tone, voice volume, and body language are just some of the components that affect how we come across and how we are received by others. For children diagnosed with autism or ADHD, who may have language delays, slower processing speeds, or poor working memory, navigating the complexities of communication styles can be a struggle and really hinder their ability to make and keep friends.

Having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can pose challenges in interpreting different communication styles within social interactions due to difficulties in sustained attention, impulsivity, and executive functioning. 

Children with ADHD may struggle to maintain focus, making it harder to accurately perceive subtle variations in communication styles. Additionally, executive functioning deficits, such as organization and planning difficulties, can hinder the ability to analyze and respond to complex social situations.

Children diagnosed with autism are likely to have challenges in interpreting different communication styles due to social communication deficits, restricted interests, and/or sensory sensitivities. Individuals with autism often struggle with understanding nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language, which are integral components of communication styles. 

This can lead to misinterpretations or misunderstandings of others' communication styles. Additionally, rigid thinking patterns and adherence to routines may make it challenging to flexibly adapt their own communication style to match different social contexts. Sensory sensitivities, common in autism, can further exacerbate difficulties in social communication by overwhelming individuals with distracting or aversive sensory stimuli, making it harder to focus on social interactions.

This is why we need to explicitly teach what the communication styles are, what they look like, and what they mean. 

This is how we can break it down to kids:

When we talk with others, we can be different types of talkers. Sometimes we might be too quiet and not say much, other times we might be too loud or bossy, and sometimes we might say things that don’t match what we are really mean.

The 4 Communication Styles

Communication Styles

1. Passive: This styles is when someone feels shy or finds it hard to speak up even when they want to or feel they should. This can make it tough to make friends or get what they want.

2. Aggressive: This is when someone is overly loud or bossy when they talk. They might say things that hurt people's feelings or make them feel uncomfortable.

3. Assertive: This style of communication is when someone shows confidence in what they say and they say it in a friendly and respectful way. It is also knowing how to stand up for themselves without hurting others.

4. Passive-Aggressive: This is when the things that are said seem okay on the surface but actually make others feel upset or annoyed. This can be tricky to deal with because the spoken words and the intent behind the words do not match.

However, knowing this and understanding what to do with this information are two different things. Kids need to experience hearing, reacting, and expressing themselves in these styles. Small group settings that offer a safe and supportive setting such as social skills groups, school counseling, or speech therapy sessions are perfect environments for practicing and refining these communication skills. By participating in group activities, children have the opportunity to observe and learn from their peers as well as receive feedback on their communication. Through guided practice and feedback within the group setting, children get real life practice with their peers to build confidence in finding an assertive voice

    Activities should be kept light and not presented as a lecture. They should also involve movement and critical thinking. Students should not be given black and white responses to memorize. They should be presented with information and able to form their own opinions and thoughts. The magic of a group is that students get the feedback of their peers which is really the most important feedback to get. 

    Communication Styles Bundle TPT

    The activities in the Communication Bundle include a BINGO game where students listen to a statement or question and then mark off the emoji face that best reflects that communication style. It also has an activity in which students are presented with social scenarios and asked to categorize the potential responses to that scenario. When you create a judgement-free environment, and stress curiosity over  being correct, your students will will keep progressing and learn to generalize their skills when faced with novel social situations.

    If you are interested in learning more about creating such a welcoming environment and designing Social Skills Groups that kids will love, Social Skills Groups for 21st Century Kids could be right for you. 


    Related Articles:

    5 Ways to Teach Perspective Taking

    Teaching Conversation Skills

    Categories: : adhd, autism, social skills, social skills group

     I'm a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and former Special Education Teacher dedicated to teaching kids the 21st Century Social Skills they need to live happier, healthier lives

    Diana Cortese
    Founder, Teach Social Skills