Social Thinking and Academics and Mental Health

Social Thinking, Academics and Mental Health: The interplay of the social mind, the academic load and emotions.

Social cognitive deficits, also known as social thinking challenges or social learning disabilities, prevent people from interpreting social information accurately. These challenges, it is believed, in part represent a social executive function problem (sometimes called a social multitasking problem). The ability to socially process and respond to information requires more than factual knowledge of the rules of social interaction and the surrounding situation (often called, the “hidden curriculum” or “hidden rules”). It also requires the ability to consider the perspective of the person you are talking to.

Thus, applying social knowledge and related social skills successfully during social interactions requires a complex synchronicity of:

  1. "Reading the hidden rules" of the situation;
  2. Perspective taking (along with language processing),
  3. Visual interpretation and
  4. The ability to formulate a related response (verbal or nonverbal) in a very short period of time (milliseconds-3 seconds).

Social thinking challenges also present themselves during academic tasks that require flexible abstract thinking. These include written expression, reading comprehension of literature, organization and planning of assignments and in more abstract math (such as word problems).

As a result, persons with significant difficulties relating to others interpersonally often have related academic struggles in the classroom.

This is particularly true as students’ age (starting in about third or fourth grade) and the curriculum becomes more abstract, requiring critical thinking related to what happens in other people's minds while also demanding a high level of organized thought.

Some students struggle with classroom participation from the moment they enter school due to deficits in their abilities to work and learn in a social group. Others don't develop obvious classroom and playground challenges until upper elementary school. Some manage to hold it together until middle school, at which time they become overwhelmed by abstract assignments, homework loads and increasingly nuanced social behaviors of their peers, which they struggle to interpret and respond to appropriately.

For more Information read the following items:

  1. Social Thinking At School
  2. Using 'social building block' - from play into academics...


It is common for these students to develop academic problems only when they get older, even if they have been identified as “quite bright” using IQ tests and other psycho-educational measures. Some students are admitted to four-year universities, only to have their academic performance break down at that point due to being overwhelmed by the all the social thinking required to socially network, organize assignments, manage life skills, etc.

Social learning challenges were usually apparent in these university students when they were younger but discounted by teachers and parents because the student was so "bright." Parents, doctors, counselors and/or teachers underplayed the critical nature of social thinking in the everyday world, given that this is a critical part of our intelligence most often taken for granted.

Unfortunately, many persons with social thinking challenges who have near normal to way above normal intelligence often experience coexisting (co-morbid) mental health challenges. Anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) may emerge in early adolescence, or even in early childhood. Feeling as though they are not "swimming in the same pond" socially as others takes its toll on people's emotional state and mental health. Social problems become emotional problems.

And unfortunately, it is not uncommon for us to meet bright students who are overwhelmed by socially loaded curriculums (language arts) or school events (intimidation in peer-based work groups, lack of social contact during classroom breaks) even to the point that the student experiences major mental health problems such as psychotic breaks or talks about or even attempts suicide. Others deal with their emotional side-effects by lashing out at others with aggressive actions. Challenges in social thinking are to be taken seriously, as they affect not only one’s ability to participate fully in activities and lessons, but also how they view themselves and others.

Products related to this topic include:

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

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