What is Social Thinking®?

Social Thinking is a structured program that helps people figure out how to think and behave in any situation where they are sharing space with other people. Michelle Garcia Winner, M.A., C.C.C.-SLP, is the founder and CEO of the Social Thinking® program, having created it in the mid 1990s in the context of her work with smart students who had poor social skills. Some highlights of this methodology include social problem solving, flexible thinking, self- regulation and increased understanding of the thoughts and feelings of other people.

Most people learn about social skills intuitively – they don’t think a whole lot about how they supposed to behave in any particular situation. Our ability to think socially gives us the means to interpret and respond to people (their thoughts, feelings and behaviors).

But children who are born with weak social cognition relative to their other strengths need to be explicitly taught what most people just kind of know. By first learning about the social learning process, they are better equipped to benefit from learning the rules about social behaviors and skills – it is the why behind the skills. Understanding why it’s important to use social skills helps improve kids interaction with others.

The Social Thinking approach can benefit people from as young as four years through adulthood. The framework is geared for people with average to above average language and cognitive skills.

How It Works

Social Thinking materials break down social concepts in ways that make sense to kids.

The curriculum helps them see the connection between their behaviors and the kinds of thoughts that other people have about them.

For example children aren’t told to “make eye contact.” Instead, they learn about “thinking with their eyes.” If we use our eyes to scan our surroundings, we can see how people are responding to us – through their body language and facial expressions. By paying attention we get cues and clues about what the person is thinking or might do next.

Another example of a Social Thinking concept is that of the “group plan” which entails learning how to figure out and follow the group plan and about whether one’s body and/or brain are in or out of the group. Where is their body? What are they thinking about? Frequently, participating in a group (in school or otherwise) can be difficult for children with weak social cognition.

Other key building blocks of the Social Thinking program include making a “smart guess,” figuring out the “hidden rules” and understanding how expected behaviors vary in different situations. Once taught these concepts, kids can practice applying them in different situations. Social Thinking materials and teaching strategies vary with the age of the student and with a child’s “level of the social mind.”

The Social Thinking model is adaptable – it can be used in schools or at home. Social Thinking concepts are often incorporated into programs that focus on teaching social skills. Start by asking if your school offers any social skills groups. If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) consider talking to the team about adding social skills goals.

One of the most effective ways to bring Social Thinking into your child’s life is participation in a social skills group. It’s possible your child would benefit in a such a setting, like a therapeutic playdate in which children spend time together, monitored by professionals who gently guide their social interactions, letting them have fun while they learn to interact more effectively with their peers.

Is this right for my child?

Consider the following:

  • Is your child school smart but socially awkward? Unable to initiate a conversation or keep in going? Have difficulty working in a group?
  • Is your child rigid in his/her thinking? Unable to consider others’ perspective? (my way or no way)
  • Is it hard for him/her to pick up on social cues such as facial expressions and body language?
  • Does s/he struggle to handle new or unexpected situations? Have difficulty generating different ways to problem solve in difficult situations?

If any of these questions strike a familiar chord, the Social Thinking approach may be a good fit for your child. Check out https://www.socialthinking.com to learn more.

Therapeutic Options uses the Social Thinking approach in its social skills groups whenever it is a good fit for the learning style and cognitive abilities of any given group of children. Group facilitators have either trained at the Social Thinking clinic and/or are highly seasoned, skilled practitioners with a comprehensive understanding of this approach to social skills development.