Thursday, April 5, 2012

Social Thinking

My husband went to a conference by  the amazing Michelle Garcia  last week.

She talked about Social Thinking

I did a Q& A with him on  this very important topic and thought it you would find it useful too .

 What is social thinking?

Social thinking is a term coined by Michelle Garcia Winner an SLP and she defines it as ‘The ability to consider own and others thoughts, emotions, beliefs, intentions, knowledge, etc. to help interpret and respond to the information in your mind and possibly through your social behavioral interactions.’ 

Basically it means to be able to read social cues of others and react appropriately. 

This comes naturally to neurotypical kiddos where shared attention and intention leads to the development of Theory of Mind, which can be put simply as:
I Know
I know I know
I know You Know
I know You Know I know

What did Michelle Garcia’s conference consider to be the biggest challenges for children on the spectrum as they grow up?

MG feels that a number of challenges in the social sphere especially in the older children and adults can be traced back to undeveloped social thinking as a young child.

Older children have trouble with peer interactions, working in a group having fruitful discussions and being able to look at the whole picture. Adults have problems that arise in the workplace and relationship matters like dating etc.

R is a child with many good social relationships with adults but none with peers ?What were the top things that you would use for a child in R’s stage ?

R has strong relationships with us and other adults but it is primarily one sided. He is smart and knows that adults are useful beings that can provide him with the things he wants. He unfortunately hasn’t felt the need to develop a relationship with peers, which should change, as he grows older.

At his stage R needs to develop an interest in our interests – I mean he has now to realize that mama and papa have their own different thought and begin to show interest by observing us. Also at the same time realize that we know what he knows and so he doesn’t have to keep telling us the same information.

Basically at this stage we have to focus on creating joint attention, which is more than simply having eye contact. He has to be taught to see what the other person is seeing and then based on that develop the ability to figure out what the person is thinking. Finally using this to have an appropriate response in a conversation.

As R develops socially what would you want to implement in his home therapy program?

As R grows older I would like to develop increasingly interactive activities, one on one or small group, where he can be trained to look at and understand social cues and nuances (Michelle calls it listening with your eyes and brains) and then interpreting them to exhibit appropriate social behavior.

Other interesting things you would like to share and/or
anything you learned that surprised you ?

I think the most interesting thing was that we should look beyond simply memorizing skills to developing capacity. Just making eye contact should not be the goal but use it to listen to what the other persons eyes are saying.  The focus needs to be on the trunk instead of the leaves of the Social learning tree 

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Floortime Lite mama writes about her life, love, hope and autism at Floortime Lite Mama 


  1. Keep me posted as to where one can find that type of intervention, or training for parents to do this. Thanks!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment !
      If you click on the Social Learning Tree in the post .. its the link to her website

  2. She has an amazing website and some of her materials can be purchased on amazon. We bought The Social Detective for our son thru amazon and then donated it to her kindergarten class. It is perfect for him and kids like him. I highly recommend the book and the whole program.

  3. LOVE, love, love her! Her approaches are amazing for kids on the spectrum.

    1. Totally agree Aimee .. everyone who has experienced her approach seems to love her

  4. K, this is such an interesting post. A few things stood out for me! :)

    "traced back to undeveloped social thinking as a young child"
    This is the area in which I am working with Nick!

    " where he can be trained to look at and understand social cues and nuances"
    I am not training Nick! :) Through experiencing the developmental stages that he has missed out on, he is learning *naturally* to reference facial expressions and body language for information. This is an important part of development. I am focusing on the roots of the tree before the trunk and the leaves. I am building the foundation for Nick's future development!

    "He has to be taught to see what the other person is seeing and then based on that develop the ability to figure out what the person is thinking.
    Understanding another person's perspective is so hard for our kids. There is so much to learn before our kids can get to this stage.

    K, obviously this is my own experience and perhaps my comment is not right for this site, however, I think it is beneficial for us parents to talk and share ideas! What do you think? xx

    1. Di you made such great points - I think a lot of of the relational models of development like RDI , floortime and sonrise take into account the roots of the tree and you are doing such an awesome job with Nick !
      "There is so much to learn before our kids can get to this stage."
      Very very true - r is definitely in the very early stage of being able to develop this skill
      one thing we are working on as we are still in very early stages with R is "what is Papa looking at ?"
      And we are making it very easy for him
      Example DH will keep a pencil right in front of his eye
      So its easy for R to answer "papa is looking at a pencil"
      Similarly his therapists are doing this in their reading comprehension - asking what each character is feeling

  5. Thanks for a great post. I a big believer in the RDI program. And at the College Internship Program in Long Beach where I am the Program Director, social thinking is a huge part of our curriculum. Michelle Garcia Winner was one of our professional advisors as well.