What is Social Thinking?

Social thinking is what we do when we interact with people: we think about them. And how we think about people affects how we behave, which in turn affects how others respond to us, which in turn affects our own emotions.

Whether we are with friends, sending an email, in a classroom or at the grocery store, we take in the thoughts, emotions and intentions of the people we are interacting with.

Most of us have developed our communications sense from birth onwards, steadily observing and acquiring social information and learning how to respond to people. Because social thinking is an intuitive process, we usually take it for granted.

But for many individuals, this process is anything but natural. And this often has nothing to do with conventional measures of intelligence.

In fact, many people score high on IQ and standardized tests, yet do not intuitively learn the nuances of social communication and interaction.

While these challenges are commonly experienced by individuals with autism spectrum disorders (high-functioning), social communication disorder, Asperger's, ADHD, nonverbal learning disability (NLD) and similar diagnoses, children and adults experiencing social learning difficulties often have received no diagnosis.

A treatment framework and curriculum developed by Michelle Garcia Winner targets improving individual social thinking abilities, regardless of diagnostic label. Professionals and parents alike are using these methods to build social thinking and related skills in students and adults. Social Thinking books, workshops and trainings, created by Winner or based on Winner's work, now offer a range of strategies that address individual strengths and weaknesses in processing social information.

Research is beginning to support the effectiveness of teaching Social Thinking. The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders published a report on methodologies specifically addressing weaknesses in the social thinking process, finding that they are successful at teaching the ability to interact socially in people with social limitations who have near-normal to way above-normal intelligence. 

Professionals Offering Social Thinking Workshops & Trainings


Treating the Person, Not the Diagnosis

portposterMore than 15 years ago, Winner coined the term Social Thinking® and developed the related treatment approach for individuals with high-functioning autism, Asperger's and similar challenges as she treated students in San Jose, CA. Recently, she received an award of Special Congressional Recognition for her on-going innovation of the Social Thinking curriculum and treatment approach. Social Thinking has long been an open treatment method, with Tony Attwood, Carol Gray, Barry Prizant, Kari Dunn Buron, Diane Twatchman-Cullen, Cathy Pratt, Brenda Smith Myles -- and many other therapists -- all providing concepts that broaden and deepen its use. In fact, much of the growth of Social Thinking, both nationally and internationally, can be attributed to its use by professionals, parents and other caregivers who modify strategies for their settings and student needs.

The term Social Thinking now encompasses many treatment programs broadly described as "teaching social thinking and related skills." These strategies share common traits and differ from "social skills" teachings by building specific thinking strategies that occur prior to social communication and interaction. 

Social Thinking strategies teach individuals:

  • How their own social minds work - why they and others react and respond the way they do;

  • How their behaviors affect the way others perceive and respond to them;

  • And how this affects their own emotions, responses to and relationships with others across different social contexts.

For individuals being taught or treated the objectives of these strategies include the ability to:

  • Recognize that they and others have different perceptions and abilities to process social information;

  • Navigate their social thinking, social interaction and social communication toward more rewarding outcomes;

  • Learn to better adapt and respond to the people and situations around them.

Find Out More

winner_denmarkThe extensive content on this website offers more information on social thinking and related treatment strategies. On the left of our What is Social Thinking? section, please feel free to browse through the articles that interest you. You can also subscribe to the Social Thinking newsletter and check Michelle Garcia Winner's blog for the latest thinking on the topic. For a casual exchange on the broader topics related to social thinking, please also take a look at the Social Thinking Facebook page.

Michelle's books and workshops seek to break down the abstract social world and offer parents and professionals strategies for building real communication and social skills in their students and adults.

Core Social Thinking books include:

  1. Inside Out: What Makes a Person with Social Cognitive Deficits Tick?

  2. Thinking About YOU Thinking About ME, 2nd Edition

  3. Think Social!

 ©2012 Social Thinking Publishing - Michelle Garcia Winner  www.socialthinking.com