Operationalizing Social Communication in Autism and Related Neurodevelopmental Research: a Scoping Review Over 20 Years

Diana Tajik-Parvinchi, Mary Jo Cooley Hidecker, Sureka Selvakumaran, Lloyd Fan, Sonya Batth, Hanna Fang, Byron Ross, Amy Curtis Stone, Brittany Reed, Chelsea Kunitz, Autumn Ostlund, Hannah Snyder, Lindsey McMillan, Hannah Adams, Victoria Verosky, Briano Di Rezze

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Purpose of Review: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by persistent deficits in social communication/interaction and restricted set of interests, activities, and/or repetitive patterns of behaviour. Although a deficit in social communication is a hallmark characteristic of ASD, it is inconsistently defined in research. This review examined research over 20 years to report how studies have defined/operationalized social communication in ASD and the related disorders. Recent Findings: Searches of key databases (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Educational Resources Information Center, PsycINFO, and MEDLINE) yielded 576 sources of which 293 met the inclusion criteria. Results demonstrated a lack of consensus defining social communication, a range of associated skills measured as an index of social communication (e.g., joint attention), and a lack of clarity on which associated constructs to measure at different developmental stages. The majority of studies used assessments to describe social communication (49.8%), but a wide range of instruments have been used without a clear understanding of whether social communication described by each instrument represents the same construct captured by the other instruments. The results also highlight the interdisciplinary interest in social communication involving at least 31 disciplines. Summary: In order to tailor interdisciplinary treatments to the needs of the client, it is important for professionals across disciplines to be clear about the characteristics of focus. Further suggestions and areas for future focus are discussed. It is important for researchers, evidence-based clinicians, and professionals, as well as families to take this complexity into consideration when exploring social communication in ASD and its related neurodevelopmental disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-87
Number of pages11
JournalCurrent Developmental Disorders Reports
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG part of Springer Nature.


  • Adults
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Child development
  • Children
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Scoping review
  • Social communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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