Last week I had, not one, but two people ask me about kids who "don't talk". In one case it was my neighbor who is concerned about his grand daughter and another case was a friend concerned about her friend's daughter. In both cases, little girls over the age of three are not talking. In both cases, they wanted to know if they should be concerned and how to help.
I, of course, suggested both children be seen and evaluated by a Speech Language Pathologist and I wondered why their pediatricians hadn't recommended this. After talking to both individuals, what I could ascertain is that the girls both appear to comprehend language and are very social. They just don't verbalize. In both cases, it appears that the parents, in an effort to be "kind", give their child what they want/need without a verbal request or even an attempt.
Language is acquired though exposure and early attempts are reinforced. An infant babbling inadvertently says 'baba" and suddenly is given a bottle! REINFOREMENT! An infant babbling inadvertently says "dada" and is rewarded with happy faces, cheers, and DADDY! REINFORCEMENT. Sometimes it just doesn't happen naturally, and that is when the adults in the environment have to be the "gatekeeper". You have to play ignorant even if you know what the child wants, only granting their wish when they make an attempt to communicate. Cruel? Not at all. It is a natural occurrence in life - you have to work for what you want!!!!
Over the years I have provided social skills instruction in various settings. At my public school job, it was commonly joked that someone as quirky as me should not be teaching social skills. Often, IEP goals for social skills interventions utilize judgment terms such as "appropriate" and "inappropriate". The Zones of Regulation curriculum (Leah M. Kuypers) and the Social Thinking Curriculum (Michelle Garcia Winners) both involve less judgment in their terminology of "expected" versus "unexpected" behavior. Less "judgy", but equally subjective.
When playing the game "Too Much, Too Little, Just Right" the children are asked to guess which "balloon" the "actor" is portraying in an otherwise neutral phrase or action. After many observations, I have come to the conclusion that "Just Right" in social behavior is as individual and varied as "Just Right" in the level of heat an individual wants on their wings. I, personally, like hot & spicy wings, while my husband prefers mild teriyaki. Is one "more right" than the other? I also have learned that perspective is key. One kiddos "too little" may be "just right" in the classroom.
If there is no right or wrong in social skills, then why am I offering social skills groups? Because social skills are critically important to societal acceptance and success. What I don't want to do is produce a homogeneous bunch of robotic kiddos asking rehearsed social questions in scripted conversations. What I do want is children who can participate in group activities by following the hidden social agendas while still maintaining the traits that make them unique, wonderful, quirky individuals.