Blog – From Primary School to High School: The Big Pragmatic Jump

February 22, 2019
Blog – From Primary School to High School: The Big Pragmatic Jump

This month’s blog article was written by Speech Pathologist Alexandra Crea.

From Primary School to High School: The Big Pragmatic Jump

Transitioning from primary school to high school can be an exciting time for children, where they are getting used to a having their own locker, a new timetable, and a bigger campus to navigate. They also have the opportunity to make new friends, and form new friendship groups. However, for children with anxiety, pragmatic language difficulties, or social skills difficulties, transitioning into high school can be a daunting experience full of new and scary social situations.

Alongside the increase in difficulty of academic material in secondary school, the social demands placed on a young 12 or 13 year old student grow substantially. Being assertive,but not aggressive, sharing your opinion, but being aware of others’ wants and ideas, helping a friend, but not being taken advantage of, are all things that can be extremely difficult to understand for a child with pragmatic difficulties. In high school, students have reduced support in navigating social interactions, interpreting nonverbal communication, and putting together clues to understand social context. Children without pragmatic difficulties are able to use and understand subtle forms of communication, which are more difficult to identify and interpret. To support our children with pragmatic and social skill difficulties, and to maximise their enjoyment of high school, here are a few key skills that can support their socialisation;

  1. Emotional regulation: Being able to stay calm and regulate your emotions can help to avoid communication breakdowns. If a child is frequently deregulating, whether that be having meltdowns, becoming extremely angry, or crying and curling into a ball, it can be very difficult for them to sustain conversations or interactions with others. They will have fewer opportunities to initiate interactions, and may not have the capacity to restore communication breakdowns. Supporting children in their emotional regulation involves teaching them how to identify the physiological changes that happen in their bodies when they feel different emotions, being aware of things that may trigger these emotions, and having strategies they can use to calm down.
  2. Interpreting emotion in others: Piecing together eye brow, mouth, eye, head and body movements can be extremely difficult, and often different facial expressions can look quite similar. If a child is unable to identify these nonverbal clues, like facial expression, body language, gesture, and voice intonation, and interpret what emotion they are relaying, it may be very difficult for them to have an appropriate, successful interaction where they are understanding and respecting the other’s perspective and ideas, and are having their own ideas understood and respected.
  3. Understanding conversational rules: There are lots of rules we unconsciously adhere to when having a conversation, including when to initiate or end a conversation, how to maintain a topic, how many turns to have and when to take them, and the appropriate ways to ask questions and make comments. These rules are never explicitly taught, and so can be unheard of or difficult to adhere to for some children. Not being able to follow these rules may result in conversations that are inappropriate by time or topic, being dominant or too quiet during conversations, oversharing or appearing to be disinterested in others.
  4. Playing: Navigating playing with others can be a battlefield of trying to understand the pragmatics and communication going on, while also learning the rules to a game, or sharing ideas that others will like. Play is often unstructured and not adult facilitated, so can be the most unpredictable part of a student’s day.

If any of the above skills are difficult for your child, seeking Speech Pathology intervention is a great way to support them in this transition. A Speech Pathologist would be able to assess your child’s strengths and limitations, and deliver 1-on-1 or group therapy to address their needs. One such group therapy program offered at Melbourne Child Development is the Secret Agent Society (SAS), which we have been running for many years. The SAS program is an evidence-based, espionage-themed therapy intervention for children aged 8-12 with social and emotional challenges. Through SAS, children learn about emotions and friendships. It may be the perfect program to support your child’s regulation and socialisation as they enter high school territory.

If your child has any social skills difficulties and you would like to know more about how a Speech Pathologist can help, please contact the practice on 9890 1062 to arrange a free 15 minute telephone conversation with a Speech Pathologist.