An Introduction to Social Thinking
By Denys Collins
July 14, 2017
- Social thinking (lower case) is what we do when we share a space with others.
- Social Thinking (capitalized) is a framework that breaks down complex social situations into easy to understand and easy to teach concepts.
- It is best for ages 4 to adult that have social learning challenges with or without a diagnostic label.
What is social thinking?
People spend their whole life learning social skills without ever realizing it. As babies, people begin to observe others, and then they begin to communicate and interact. The more people socialize, the more they are able to understand people and situations in order to act accordingly. Social thinking is our innate ability to think through a social situation by “interpreting thoughts, beliefs, intentions, emotions, knowledge and actions of another person along with the context of the situation to understand that person’s experience.” We then apply this information and respond. Our response affects how the other person will respond which then affects our emotions. Everyone does this all day long:
- At home: Your spouse gives you the silent treatment, you have to figure out why
- At work: Your boss calls you into their office. While you walk over, you try to discover her intentions.
- Reading a book: You look at the connection between the characters and their influence on each other.
- Texting: You need to detect sarcasm before you respond.
- Flirting: You try to pick up on hints of interest that aren’t being directly stated.
- School: Your best friend is playing with someone else, and you try to determine why they aren’t playing with you.
Those that have social learning challenges may find the practice of social thinking to be confusing and complicated. This has nothing to do with intelligence. Some people born with developmental disabilities do not soak up social information as intuitively as others. They will need to learn social skills and actively think through social situations. This can be done much easier with someone to help them through different scenarios. This brings us to Michelle Garcia Winner.
Who is Michelle Garcia Winner?
Michelle Garcia Winner is a speech language pathologist (SLP). She focuses on helping individuals with social learning challenges.
In the mid 1990s she became a SLP for a public high school district. She began to see a trend with many of the students she worked with. They had strong intelligence and language, but their social communication skills were lacking. Social Thinking was born. A few years later she opened her own private practice for Social Thinking. She started a company under the same name and began public speaking on the topic, publishing books, and creating products. She has won many awards including:
- Congressional Recognition Award, 2008
- Lifetime Achievement Award, the Prentice School, 2012
- Outstanding Achievement Award, California Speech-Language-Hearing Association (CSHA), 2012
- Community Partner Award, Massachusetts Association for the Blind (MAB) Community Services, 2016
What is Social Thinking?
Social Thinking is a framework created by Michelle Garcia Winner. It is targeted at helping those with social learning and communication challenges. People are taught to think about their thoughts and emotions and of those around them. Social Thinking takes the complex steps of social skills and breaks them down into steps. Ideas are stated in an easy to understand way. For example, instead of being told to “make eye contact, they are taught to think with their eyes.” Social Thinking is a three-part process:
- Learn to closely observe the social world we live in.
- Learn to adapt social skills to meet social goals by becoming self-aware, self-monitoring, and having self-control.
- Become more aware of your emotions and better predict and relate to the emotions of others.
Who is it for?
The concepts and strategies can be helpful for anyone. One can find them being used in:
- Schools: Public, Private, Charter (Special Education, Mainstream)
- Private Programs
- Community Programs (Sports, Clubs)
- Therapy Offices
- Places of Employment
The most common target audience is:
- Those with social learning challenges
- Ages four to adulthood
- Average to above average language and cognitive skills
- With or without a diagnostic label
- Some of the many diagnostic labels:
- Aperger’s Syndrome
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Social communication Disorder
- PDD-NOS, ADHD/ADD
- Non-verbal learning disability
- Specific Language Impairment
- Learning disabilities
- Down Syndrome
- Brain Injury
- Velocardial Facial Syndrome
- Social Anxiety
- And many more
Wrap It Up
As you can see, social thinking is a major part of our life. It is practiced every time we enter a space where other people are. Even with all the intellect in the world, a lack of social skills can lead to struggling through many daily activities. This is not just about having friends and relationships; this is also about succeeding at work and school.
If you or your child is struggling with social skills or you are a teacher or therapist and would like more information, please go to socialthinking.com where this information was found. You can also attend the 2nd Autism Alaska Conference. It is October 5th and 6th, 2017 with keynote speaker, Michelle Garcia Winner. This is an event you won’t want to miss.