Life Development Institute (LDI) provides education for students who have learning disabilities, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and other learning and social differences through each of its 3 programs, which include the Emerging Leaders Summer Academy, the Academy of Lifelong Learning day high school program, and the Post-Secondary Program.  Additionally, LDI seeks to provide the community with Speaker Series workshops each month.  These no-cost sessions offer valuable information to students, families, educators, and professionals.  On October 19, 2016, Ms. Ruth Bonno, Speech-Language Pathologist, spoke about Pragmatics and the Art of Conversing.  During her presentation, she provided information related to what is encompassed by pragmatic skills, why they are important, what techniques can be used to help increase them as well as identify what social skills therapy entails and where to start if you are concerned about someone’s social skills.

Ruth started her career in 1984, working in a NY state institution for developmentally disabled adults. She then worked in various community hospitals, starting and/or expanded their swallowing programs. Ruth was the supervisor for speech therapy at the Communication Disorders Unit for State University of New York (SUNY) Hospital, an upstate New York University Hospital. At the university hospital, Ruth was involved in various unique, comprehensive programs, including: cleft palate team, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis clinic (Lou Gerig’s disease), neurosurgery unit, neurology clinic, and geriatric unit. She started the Modified Barium Swallow Program for video fluoroscopic assessment of swallowing disorders.  As part of the Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) department, she worked with patients who lost their ability to speak or eat due to head and neck cancer. Ruth trained and mentored students in speech language pathology and taught residents and medical students. 

In 1995, Ruth re-located to Phoenix. After working at local hospitals, she founded Desert Therapies, a therapy agency, serving the Northwest valley, providing in-home speech therapy for children with special needs. Her career has returned to where it started, working with individuals with development disabilities. Over the past 21 years she has worked with families who have children with autism, Down syndrome, a variety of genetic disorders and swallowing disorders.  She further offers telepractice, an effective service delivery model via the computer.

Ruth is certified by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association and licensed in the state of Arizona. She received a Bachelor of Science from Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI; a Master of Arts from Cleveland State University., Cleveland, OH and completed post graduate courses at Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY.   Ruth is a member of the Arizona Speech-Language-Hearing Association and Alpha Sigma Nu Honor Society. Early in her career, she completed research regarding child narrative or stories and taught college courses on pediatric swallowing disorders. 

Additionally, Ruth is uniquely qualified as the mother of a teenager with an autism spectrum disorder.  Daily, she lives the challenges of interacting with a daughter who has a pragmatic language disorder.

Concerning pragmatic skills, Ruth advised that Pragmatics refers to the use of language in social contexts.  It includes the interpretation and use of verbal and non-verbal communication.  In addition to conversing, it includes how we say something, how we are perceived by others and our understanding of humor.  These skills are important because they are needed to establish and maintain friendships.  We know that 40% of adolescents with SLI have poorer quality of friendships than typically developing peers.  Friendships, establishing and maintaining, is found to be one of the highest indicators of college retention. They are needed for professional and employment interactions.  The employment rate for persons with HFA is 55% lower than the rate for persons with intellectual disabilities.  We know that to be successful in our vocations, we need social skills.

In helping to increase pragmatic skills, Ruth states that it is important to familiarize one’s self with leaders in the field of social skills.  These include:  Social Thinking by Michelle Garcia Winner, and Social Stories by Carol Gray. Many programs are available to help increase conversational skills, including starting a conversation, maintaining a topic, changing a topic, use of eye contact and non-verbal skills as well as use of your voice in the prosodic or suprasegmental features  (those imposed on the words and sentences) including stress, intonation and pitch.

Ruth continued that 3 theories contribute to social skills therapy.  These theories include the following:

  • Central Coherence Theory difficulty conceptualizing into a larger whole
  • Executive Dysfunction Theory difficulty with executive function skills, which includes solving person problems
  • Theory of Mind the ability to intuitively track what others know and think during personal interactions, effectively communicating and creating organizational structures that allow for flexibility and prioritization.

If you are concerned about someone’s social skills, there are many professionals who perform social skills therapy, including speech-language pathologists, social workers, psychologists, neuropsychologists, and occupational therapists.  Regardless of who completes the therapy, begin with a complete evaluation to determine strengths and weaknesses.  Since pragmatic skills are a LANGUAGE disorder, it makes sense to have them evaluated by a Speech-Language Pathologist who will look at social skills as part of the person’s total communication. Social skill challenges often do not exist in a vacuum.

Ruth offered invaluable information to those who attended her Speaker Series sessions.  Many students were able to recognize the need to focus upon understanding pragmatics personally so that they could practice the art of conversing with peers, family members, educators, and employers.  The lesson is a valuable for each person as communication exists among all members of society.  As such, proper implementation of pragmatics enables success, increases self-esteem, and empowers communal engagement of all members.

For more information on Pragmatics and to connect with Ruth, please visit

For more information on Life Development Institute, please visit or call 623-773-1545.