Michelle Garcia Winner developed Social Thinking® in the 1990’s when working as a speech language pathologist in a high school. She quickly learned that she was working with many kids that had undiagnosed social deficits that were not being effectively addressed. Michelle designed and continues to build her Social Thinking® program to work with kids that have social cognitive deficits.
Social competence is not entirely something that is taught. However, we expect that kids can be effective in interacting with others, be part of a group or just share space with others. We learn by observing people in our environment, understanding what is expected/ unexpected in situations and adjusting our own behaviors to make others feel more comfortable. It is not enough to just have social knowledge, we must be able to observe what is happening around us and make appropriate adjustments to keep others thinking positively about us.
As a person enters a crowded restaurant, someone with relatively good social competence would consider where everyone is standing and attempt to walk over to the hostess by saying “excuse me” and try not to bump into people. If he does this effectively, he will likely go relatively unnoticed. Our objective much of the time is to have people thinking positive or just neutral thoughts about us. However, if he were to bump into others or yell toward the hostess, “table for 3,” people are quickly going to be having negative thoughts about him.
Complexities of Social Skills
Social skills have so much depth and complexity. When children struggle with social skills it may be due to their difficulty communicating effectively either verbally or non-verbally. It can also be related to their inability to think about their own emotions and other’s emotions and then adapting their behavior in different contexts. What is appropriate in one setting does not always carry over and may change depending on who is “sharing space” in that setting. Many children have strong language abilities, but have difficulty knowing when and how to apply it and change it depending on the situation. Flexibility and adaptability are often something that is difficult for kids and is utilized on a constant basis in social skills. This complexity makes it next to impossible to formulate “rules” around social contexts. In order to be successful in a social situation you want to think not only about the setting, the people, but also the emotions and thoughts those people are having. Then instantly, you are required to adapt your behavior as you are taking all of this information in. Due to this complexity, it is required that we teach social skills in a way that utilizes the individual’s strengths and is specific to the child.
Teaching Social Thinking®
Social Thinking® approaches teaching social cognitive deficits in a way that uses the strengths of each individual to facilitate thinking about those social situations and then understanding how to adapt your behavior specific to the situation. For example, for many years professionals taught kids with poor eye contact to look the person they were talking to in the eye. The skill of looking someone in the eye does not equate to listening or paying attention. With many kids, as they attempt to look a person in the eye, they could actually be causing that person to have “nervous” or negative thoughts because it does not feel natural or comfortable. Some of the terminology and activities of the Social Thinking program are centered on “thinking with your eyes” as opposed to just making eye contact.
Our therapists have attended several conferences on Social Thinking and have found it extremely beneficial for many of our kids. Are you interested in learning more about Social Thinking and how Leaps & Bounds is incorporating this program into treatment? Please join us for our upcoming FREE Parent Seminar – Social Thinking/ Zones of Regulation on Thursday June 2, 2016 at 7:30PM.