WHAT IS SOCIAL THINKING?
Social Thinking is a cognitive behaviour approach to developing an understanding of how the social mind works. This approach was developed by Michelle Garcia Winner (speech and language therapist) and her team. It is an evidence based intervention (Crooke, Hendrix, and Rachman, 2008) and has been highly successful in many countries all over the world.
Social Thinking precedes the use of good social skills. Our social mind is hardwired prior to birth and emerges in the early days of life as babies pursue social learning through their interactions with the environment (Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, 2003). Distinguishing between facial expressions, development of pre-linguistic communication skills such as declarative pointing, responding to the ideas of others and engaging in verbal exchanges are all indicators that a child is learning about what other people are thinking. Social Thinking teaches us that first we need to be aware of the people and situation before we select a set of behaviours (social skills) to use. As we share space with others, either at home, in public places or at school, we have to be aware of others and then monitor and modify our behaviour according to the way we want people to think of us. Children who struggle to develop the social understanding and related social skills require an approach that supports this process of learning in a concrete and clear way. As part of Amanda's therapy, a core set of Social Thinking vocabulary is introduced and specific lessons are planned to provide the child/student with practice. Where is it possible, group therapy sessions are arranged which facilitate interactive peer learning. Below I am providing a couple examples of core concepts but I would encourage all those interested to have a look at the Social Thinking website for more detailed information (www.socialthinking.com).
Children with social communication challenges often have difficulty understanding others thoughts and intentions. They interpret language very literally and struggle to see the bigger picture. It is also common for these children to lack the ability to 'read' body language and facial expressions. Their thinking style also tends to be more rigid rather than flexible. This prevents them from adequate problem solving and conflict resolution skills. Some children tend to be overly competitive and bossy while others are timid and reluctant to join in. They often misjudge the size of the problem and there is likely to be a bigger than expected emotional reaction. Students with social communication difficulties may also struggle with reading comprehension and written expression. This may be due to difficulty with perspective taking and their ability to plan, prioritise and execute their intended message in a way that others can understand.
CORE SOCIAL THINKING VOACBULARY
Expected and Unexpected Behaviours
Expected behaviours are things we do and say that give people good thoughts about us and make them feel good too. Doing what is expected is different based on where we are and who we are with. Unexpected behaviours are things we say and do that give people uncomfortable (odd) thoughts about us and makes them feel bad or annoyed. Doing what is unexpected is different based on where we are and who we are with (different situations)
Good Thoughts and Good Feelings and Weird Thoughts and Uncomfortable Feelings
Good thoughts make others feel good based on your behaviours (actions). Weird thoughts make others feel uncomfortable based on your behaviours (actions).
Thinking With Your Eyes
This is a statement that we use instead of telling students to ‘look at me’. By using the words “thinking with your eyes”, you are making it explicit that we need to think through the eyes of other people to make a smart guess about what that person maybe thinking and feeling. This is very relevant when working on problem solving and perspective taking skills.
Whole Body Listening
This concept means that it is the whole body (ears, eyes, mouth, hands, feet and brain) which needs to be focused on others in order to listen and also to show you are listening. When you show the expected behaviours for listening (e.g. in the classroom or when having a conversation) people are more likely to have good thoughts and feelings about you. This positive interaction with others will promote better social relationships.
Here is the link to a nice article by Elizabeth Sautter and Sarah Ward on using Whole Body Listening to increase executive functioning skills.
This is a Youtube video which nicely explains what it means for a young child to have developmentally appropriate perspective taking skills. Many of our students with social thinking challenges struggle with being able to 'put themselves in other people's shoes'.
Crooke, P., Hendrix, R., & Rachman, J. (2008). Measuring the effectiveness of teaching social thinking to children with Autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism &Developmental Disorders. 38(3):581-91.
Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, M. (2003). Einstein never used flashcards (p. 183). New York, NY; Rodale Inc. Publishers.