Michelle Garcia Winner (Author, creator of Social Thinking, and 2008 Congressional Recognition Award Recipient) and her colleague, Dr. Pamela Crooke, were on campus on February 22-23 to speak with parents and faculty about Social Thinking—the set of skills we use to perceive, judge and actively participate in social situations using our language and thinking skills. Social thinking may appear elusive to those who developed these skills intuitively, but these skills need to be taught explicitly to those who have difficulty processing social situations.
So what is Social Thinking? According to Michelle, it’s “a constellation of concepts and related strategies to help all people better understand the social experience and how it can be taught through cognitive behavioral techniques.” Our own social experience involves the ability to consider our own and others thoughts, emotions and intentions in social situations. A person needs to be self-aware, be able to self-manage, be aware of what rules and behaviors apply to a social situation, be able to identify the relationship between everyone involved and, finally, make responsible decisions based on that information.
In addition to laying out the basics of identifying different levels of social thinking, Michelle shared some strategies with parents and teachers. A large part of her talk, and current focus of research she is doing with Dr. Pamela Crooke, is helping parents realize that play, in particular imaginative play with peers, provides a strong foundation for developing and practicing crucial social thinking and perspective-taking skills.
The Social Thinking curriculum focuses on students developing their own strategies to increase their perspective taking skills. One strategy that works independently and with other strategies is teaching a student to use their inner coach, wherein they talk themselves through the steps they need to take in order to stay actively involved in a group. To better identify and increase the self-awareness of those challenges, Michelle challenges students identify common problems, rank them and then provide perspective on their rankings of those problems. It is also helpful to explain how small problems only require small reactions.
Dr. Crooke shared a friendship pyramid and how it can be used to help students identify where (or if) their peers/classmates would rank (acquaintance, friend, close bonded friend). Based on where a person ranks on the pyramid, we can identify different expectations for language usage and expected levels of interaction.
Dr. Crooke and Michelle both pointed out how the variety and dynamic nature of social situations require us to think and react quickly which makes providing a simple script impractical and limiting.
For more information on Social Thinking, you can visit their website, socialthinking.com, which contains a large number of free articles that explain further aspects of social thinking. (Brian Walker, ES Speech Language Pathologist)