Michelle's Blog

Michelle's Blog

Michelle Garcia Winner, who a decade ago started social thinking as a treatment approach for students with social and communication challenges, will update you on this instructional and treatment approach through her blog. You can bookmark the blog and subscribe it through a newsfeed (adding it to Favorites in Explorer or "Subscribe" in Firefox under Bookmarks or clicking on the blue icon in the address bar) or subscribe to Michelle's Social Thinking newsletter to get updates on new postings. We also will post new blogs on our Facebook page. You can link to the blog on your website and in emails. Please also feel free to browse the articles on the left for more on specific topics!

Using Superflex® and Social Detective in Elementary School: Making PBIS Supercool!

Using Superflex® and Social Detective in Elementary School: Making PBIS Supercool!

By Michelle Garcia Winner

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The Incredible Flexible You and Braidy the StoryBraid Make a Great Pair!

The Incredible Flexible You™ and Braidy the StoryBraid™ Make a Great Pair!

Guest blog by Sean J. Sweeney, CCC-SLP

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Information Informer or Social Relater

Information Informer or Social Relater?

Developing an Awareness of Our Roles in Social Communication

By Michelle Garcia Winner – Founder of Social Thinking®

Have you ever been talking to another person and realize you're talking too much about something really interesting to you but something that may not be all that interesting to them? I think the majority of us have had, and continue to have, these experiences from time to time.

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Thoughts on Encouraging Students to Ask for Help

Thoughts on Encouraging Students to Ask for Help

By Michelle Garcia Winner

Learning to ask for help is an important life skill. Within the Social Thinking® teaching framework, this social ability is part of the larger skill set Initiation, the "I" that kicks off the ILAUGH Model of Social Thinking. It's important for all individuals to learn to initiate requests for help in various environments, such as at home, in their classes, and when around others, and this is especially relevant to individuals with social learning challenges, for whom this skill set doesn't unfold through typical social development.

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Perspective Taking, Executive Functioning, and Writing Books

Perspective Taking, Executive Functioning, and Writing Books

By Michelle Garcia Winner

This month we're announcing the release of two new Social Thinking products! The first is for all our students, teachers, and parents actively involved in the Superflex Training Academy. They will be happy to hear about the newest comic book in our line of Superflex products, Superflex Takes on One-Sided Sid, Un-Wonderer and the Team of Unthinkables! This book includes a CD with "thinking sheets" (worksheets) to guide further student learning about these concepts!

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Social Thinking and the Clinical Social Worker

Social Thinking and the Clinical Social Worker or Licensed Mental Health Counselor: An Effective Intervention Tool

Guest blog by Ashlea Johnson, LCSW

One of the first things a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), licensed mental health counselor (LMHC), or licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) assesses in new clients is their cognitive (thinking) functions. Do the clients distort their thoughts to sabotage their outlook on the world, or is their thinking not distorted and able to adapt to their environment?

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Social Media, the Social Mind and Social Thinking

By Michelle Garcia Winner

They say the two things we can't avoid in life are death and taxes. Actually, there's a third thing – social skills. Throughout life we are surrounded by people. Those people have thoughts and emotions about those with whom they share space. For us all to feel safe and meet our immediate goals, we depend on other people to regulate their behavior in a manner that allows that to happen. In turn, we know we have to do the same.

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The Social Learning Discovery Channel

Social Thinking®: The Social Learning Discovery Channel to Developing Social Skills and Lasting Social Behavioral Changes

Social Thinking is known for taking abstract social concepts and teaching them in a more concrete manner. For example, rather than teach eye-contact we teach our students to think with their eyes; rather than teach cooperation we teach students to be a person who engages in thinking of you type behaviors rather than act like a just me.

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For Teens, Mentoring Leads to Meaningful Social Learning

For Teens, Mentoring Leads to Meaningful Social Learning

By Katy Shamitz

I didn't know what to do with Jake.

A friendly but lonely high school freshman, Jake desperately needed a social group— an opportunity to develop cognitive flexibility and learn strategies to manage the anger that was blocking him out of friendships.

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Learned Spontaneity

Guest Blog by Robin Fox

Life is improv. We make it up as we go along—responding and reacting to the words and actions of others. Yes, there are times when life may feel more scripted as we go through the same experiences again and again, but if you really stop and think about it, each interaction has a tone and feel all it’s own.

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A How-To Guide for Measuring Social Thinking Progress

By Michelle Garcia Winner and Dr. Pamela Crooke

It's that time of year when many educators are wrapping up the school year, taking data on IEPs/intervention plans, and writing end of year progress reports. And, when parents are asking that inevitable question: how did my child fare this year? For teachers and parents alike, when it comes to efficiently measuring an individual's social thinking and related social skills, most of us struggle with how to make the process both accurate and meaningful.

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Bullies are Empowered by Bystanders

Guest Blog by Dr. Frank Sacco

keynote speaker at our 6th Annual Providers Conference, June 21-23, 2013

Bullies only do what bystanders allow. Bullying is a useless and harmful human behavior that occurs at all age levels, in all countries, to all levels of income with some very clear challenges for parents, teachers, schools, and policymakers. Simply put, bullying is publically and repeatedly targeting someone or a group with shame-causing messages sent directly or online.

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Adapting to Cultures: Our Communities’ Culture and the Culture of ASD

Michelle Garcia Winner

Recently I was asked by a school educational specialist for advice on responding to a parent’s question about her bright high school student who has Asperger’s Syndrome. The question was something like this:

 

”Why should my son have to change his social behavior given that it represents his own social culture of ASD?”

 

The parent was, in part, also asking why the focus of treatment wasn’t on changing how others responded to her child’s individuality. This is a question that has popped up on occasion from adolescents and adults with higher functioning ASD and their parents. Many of you may have your own thoughts on how to address this question, but here’s my perspective.

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Recovery or Optimal Outcome

“Recovery” or “Optimal Outcome”: What Does it Really Mean?

Michelle Garcia Winner

The goal in diagnosing developmental learning challenges is to identify one or more types of treatment that, when applied across time, lead to an improved outcome for the student. With this in mind, it was encouraging to read about a study published recently that documents a small (but compelling) percentage of students who were diagnosed with ASD before 5 years old and are now reported to have evolved to a point in their social learning and related social skills that they are described as having “recovered” from autism (Fein et al., 2013). Researchers of the study refer to this as an “optimal outcome” (OO).

 

Outlined below is a brief summary of the characteristics which qualified a subject with ASD for the Fein et al. study:

  1. Having a verbal, nonverbal, and full-scale IQ standard score of 77 or higher
  2. Early language delay (no words by 18 months or no phrases by 24 months)
  3. Written documentation of an ASD diagnosis prior to age 5 and verified in a written report
  4. Confirmation that the written report adequately described symptoms of autism beyond just having the diagnosis.  

 

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Social Thinking and Common Core Standards

Good News!

U.S. Academic Standards (Common Core) now include Social Learning
 as part of Speaking/Listening and Anchor Standards!

Social Thinking has always stressed the importance of the connection between social learning and the core academic standards. The good news is that the latest version of the academic standards, called the Common Core Standards (CCSs), now recognizes Speaking and Listening as an integral part of learning. Standards included in the new CCSs include concepts related to collaboration, cooperation, understanding other’s minds or point of view, analysis of fiction, understanding bias in our media and science, just to name a few! For those of you who’ve struggled to convince others about the importance of including a social component to the academic day or write goals/objectives related to this, the broader adoption of the CCSs can help. Finally, social relatedness, group listening, and conversational skills will be recognized as part of the academic day.

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Mentors Vs. Modeling

Mentors versus Modeling:
How Can Peers Help Our Students Learn Social Information?

Michelle Garcia Winner

It’s always been curious to me that people think that children with serious social learning challenges will improve their social skills if they are provided with plenty of opportunities to watch typically developing kids use appropriate social skills across the day. With just a little study of normal development, one finds that children with typically developing social minds spend a lot of time observing their peers before they even begin to attempt to interact with them in their late toddler/early-preschool years. Students with social learning challenges are born with weak social observational skills to begin with. Thinking they will observe their mainstream peers to learn social behavior is too much of a leap.

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Sandy Hook Elementary: A Spectrum Perspective

Note from Michelle:

A friend and penpal of mine, who has Asperger's Syndrome himself, discussed with me his outrage that AS was mentioned as part of the profile of the murderer, Adam Lanza. He felt there was no connection between Adam's social learning issues and the tragedy that ensued. I asked him to elaborate on his thinking and he responded by writing a heartwarming essay about how he also has AS but how he has instead devoted his life to focusing on his strengths and learning from his social challenges to help him contribute to and feel included in his community. His essay follows:

 

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Change Your Ways!

Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

For most of us, the drive to change our own behavior emerges on or around January 1st with the dawn of a new year and new possibilities for self improvement. Lose a little weight, stop smoking, exercise more, and eat leafy greens seem to be among the favorites. Most of us are pretty conservative and only select 1 (maybe 2) goals to tackle each year.  After all, we are only human and it takes a lot of thinking to change a pattern or ingrained routine.  If you’re diligent and work hard, you might see a change but for most of us….it’s an exercise in futility by the time March 1st comes along.  Why does that happen? How do we lose our “oomph” and why do we slip back into our old, familiar ways? Why can’t we learn to change our ways?  These are all questions that we ought to be asking, but rarely do. Instead, we wait until the following year and begin the process all over again. Why?

Because changing a behavior is REALLY hard, even when we’re highly motivated to do so.

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School-Based Preschool Programs: Inclusion or Direct Teaching?

Michelle Garcia Winner, Nancy Tarshis and Deb Meringolo

Our blog this month is about early learners and inclusion, but I’m sure you’ll find the concepts extend out to other age groups as well. Based on the following question, I developed a response and then asked my colleagues, Nancy Tarshis and Debbie Meringolo, to contribute their thoughts on this topic as they are preschool specialists and I am not. We know this is a delicate subject; your experience may be different from ours, as well as your opinion. It is important we discuss all different points of view related to inclusion-based education. We are not for or against blanket inclusion; instead we are proponents of “thoughtful inclusion.” (Read my blog by the same name written in Feb. 2010and posted on the www.socialthinking.com website.) 

Query: I am trying to verify some information that was attributed to Michelle Garcia Winner by one of our autism specialists. She is quoted as saying that students with autism (yes the entire range except for super high functioning) should not be taught in an inclusion style model, especially in preschool with students who are more typical but may still have delays in some areas.

I have looked at Michelle's writings, the various articles that reference her on the web and have been unable to find where this information is cited. Could you please direct me to the source so that I can have the most complete and up-to-date information needed to help my students succeed?

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Why do We Use The Expected-Unexpected Social Thinking Vocabulary?

Michelle Garcia Winner

Question sent to me: I was wondering if you help me with explaining some of the language you support.  I am having some trouble with the teachers I am working with wanting to use the language “expected and unexpected.”  I have utilized many consultation tactics and they still are using the language “appropriate and inappropriate.”  I am trying to think outside the box a little and thought maybe if the explanation came from you, they would understand the terminology better.

In response to the question:

Historically there is a tendency to think we can teach students to learn social behavior by setting behavioral expectations and then simply telling them what we expect from them or telling them when we are disappointed in their behavior. To this end, professionals and parents, upon noticing a student doing an undesired behavior, will tell the student, “That’s inappropriate.” Rarely do you hear teachers telling students their behaviors are “appropriate.”  When we interpret the meaning behind the use of the phrase “That’s inappropriate,” we usually find it is used in a manner that reflects the speaker is disappointed in the student if not upset with him or her. Therefore it is used to scold and redirect rather than to teach.

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Ellipses to Better Define Social Relationships

Dr. Peter Vermeulen

Note to reader: Dr. Peter Vermeulen was a keynote speaker at our 2012 Social Thinking Provider’s Conference. He spoke on the topics of “Relationship Development for People with ASD” in addition to “Context Blindness.” During the talk on relationships he spoke about the concept of Social Relationship Ellipses. I thought this idea was excellent and asked him if he could write an article in English since this topic has only be written about in Flemish (Peter is from Belgium).

A relationship, especially an intimate relationship, poses a lot of challenges for people with an autism spectrum disorder or other social cognitive challenges. Or, as a young man with autism once told us: “Relationships are 1000 times more difficult than math!”

Contrary to math, a relationship is built around an infinite number of unwritten rules and laws. And unwritten rule number one is: there are no fixed rules in a relationship. And that’s because a relationship is the result of the bonding of two unique people. It takes two to tango, but we all tango our own, unique way. So, every relationship is unique.

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ZOOMING IN on Challenges, ZOOMING OUT to Practical Strategies for Schools

Those of you familiar to Social Thinking® know that we are always on a quest to better understand how the social world connects - on a deeper level - to school, work, and home. Our latest thinking has been inspired by the idea of Zooming IN on the micro or specific challenges we routinely see in our students and then Zooming OUT to connect those challenges to the “big picture.” What’s the “big picture” you ask? Well, the big picture is the academic and family world that surrounds our kids. The big picture involves Common Core Standards and lunch bunch, IEP goals and afterschool clubs. It includes figuring out teachers and organizing materials for a paper. It’s everything that is part of the home and school experience. We realized, however, that looking at the big picture is sometimes nothing short of a brain fog for those of us trying to figure out where to start.

So, we put together a couple of new workshop days that will take participants on our latest journey: A glance at the big picture with the goal of zooming in on WHAT TO DO NEXT. This forced us to develop the mantra: “more tools, more strategies” and we’ve been chanting this ever since to keep us on course while developing these two new workshops.

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Managing Impulsivity through Self-Regulation

I recently received a letter from an educator who was asking about her middle school aged student who exhibits impulsive behaviors. Impulsive behaviors are common among our students with social thinking/social learning challenges. The problem is that impulsive behavior is observed as unexpected behavior and can result in challenges in both functioning as part of a group, and gaining social acceptance by one’s peers, both within and outside the classroom. Plus, middle school is a time when our students become more aware of their social differences. They are nevertheless trying to assert their own independence alongside increasing expectations by adults and by teachers that they become more responsible and handle greater levels of independent thought, school work and behavior. At this stage in social development, impulsive behaviors can often result in teasing and bullying by peers and cause exasperation in teachers who have to manage the student’s repeated disruptions.

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Pizza and Social Conformity

The following is a letter sent to me by one of my mature adult clients, "Edward,"  and his insights as to how he has evolved as a social communicator given our many years of exploring Social Thinking together.

In our culture we tend to think of conformity in negative light, if you look at the origin of the word "conform," it really just means "to form." To form a group, each person works to fit into that group. Accepting and acknowledging the wishes of your peers is one step to being accepted by your peers. Edward puts it in a more user friendly way: "connecting better." We are like pieces of a puzzle, each connected, each needed to form the whole.

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DSM-5: My Thoughts

The Proposed DSM-5 Changes with Regard to ASD
Posted by Michelle Garcia Winner

facebook_1_100pxtwitter_1_100pxI have been asked by many to share my thoughts on the proposed changes to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) as they relate to our folks with social learning challenges. If you are unfamiliar with why the changes are being made, google this concept to learn more. The American Psychiatric Association (www.apa.org) is responsible for writing and publication of the DSM. At the bottom of this blog find their proposed changes to autism spectrum disorders (ASD), as copied from their website.

In a nutshell, effective with the release of DSM-5 in May 2013 we will change the way we describe autism-related disabilities to the singular “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Clients will no longer be diagnosed as having “autism” versus “PDD-NOS” or “Asperger Syndrome” as all of these different classifications will officially go away. However, individuals with ASD will be referred to as having one of three severity levels (see chart at end).

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What Keeps Us from Feeling Motivated?

This "blog" is really also a worksheet on developing motivation and exploring ways for our students to take data on their own actions they are to attend to between treatment sessions. A PDF of these worksheets is at the bottom of the blog. The worksheets on the following pages were reviewed in our Transition to Adulthood workshop day. For more background information on this, read the blog also posted below: Being the Director of My Own Treatment Team

One example of using motivation is when you can make yourself do something we don’t want to do.

Motivation can be a Catch-22: if you are not motivated you can’t get the work done, if you don’t get the work done it kills your motivation.

Motivation can come in two forms:

  1. Extrinsic (rewards that encourage us to do something in order to get something tangible and possibly unrelated to the task)
  2. Intrinsic (thought based rewards; our mind recognizes our accomplishments, step by step and provides us with a feeling of satisfaction as we move through a task).

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Adults: Becoming the Directors of Their Own Treatment Teams and Treatment Plans

Evolving ideas for working with adults and high school teams helping to prepare students for adulthood

By Michelle Garcia Winner

Many of our students/clients received some level of support through school based 504 plans, IEPs and/or from counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists in their community as children and into their high school years.

Turning 18 years old in the United States results in a person being referred to as an “adult” or “young adult.” This means they are legally responsible for their actions and based on their parents’ decision, they are potentially responsible financially for all of their costs of living, education, etc.  However, many parents continue to financially support their young adult/adult children while they pursue post-secondary education as well as assist with living costs if their “children” are unable support themselves. To parents this may feel like their adult-children continue to require extra educational, psychological, social skills and/or life-skills counseling to help them learn to live more independently as an adult. While parents may fund these extra educational/therapeutic adult services, parents are not typically permitted the same direct access to their adult-children’s service providers. Instead it is expected adult-children can independently understand how to utilize the information they are gaining from these treatment services and then directly apply strategies learned as needed across their school, vocational, community or home experiences.

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Overview of Social Thinking Teachings

Here is an article Pam and I wrote for a journal, which we've updated and now have permission to publish for free access on our website. I hope you will find the information useful, as it is a good overview on Social Thinking. Feel free to link to the article to share with your friends and colleagues! 

 

Social Thinking®: A Developmental Treatment Approach for Students with Social Learning/Social Pragmatic Challenges

By: Michelle Garcia Winner, MS, CCC-SLP  & Pamela J. Crooke, PhD., CCC-SLP

Journal Title: Perspectives on Language Learning and Education
Journal Volume: 16
Issue: (2)
Pages: 62-69
Month/Year: July 2009
Original article can also be found in PDF here:pdf_button

Abstract: Teaching students with social learning/pragmatic challenges what neurotypical children learn intuitively is an act that blends art and science. This article will describe the development of social learning and social communication and their relationship to social skills. A training and treatment framework referred to as “Social Thinking” will be introduced.  The training aspect of Social Thinking is referred to as the ILAUGH Model, an acronym representing how different aspects of the school and home day require core social knowledge and then how we use this knowledge to produce our social skills as well as participate successfully in specific academic tasks. This article will also introduce one aspect of Social Thinking treatment called the Social Thinking Vocabulary which creates concrete ways to explore and teach abstract lessons related to our social skills production.

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Social Thinking-Social Learning Tree

STreetinyExploring Social Learning by Starting at our Roots

By Michelle Garcia Winner, CCC-SLP

Learning evolves. The brain’s capacity to acquire new knowledge helps determine how and what we intuitively learn. Some learning happens as a matter of cognitive, social, and emotional development, i.e., from the “inside out,” while other learning happens “from the outside in.” For those of us who are neurotypical, social learning helps us bond with our caregivers early in life then paves the way for language development, more advanced relations, and an understanding of abstract social concepts that grows through experience and maturity.

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Social Thinking - From New Delhi to Kuala Lumpur

By Pam Crooke & Michelle Garcia Winner

From Brisbane to New Delhi to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, our purpose during this summer's workshop schedule in Asia was to teach about Social Thinking, but, not surprisingly, we were the ones learning too!

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Working through Blood Work

I received the below story by Shelly Green, who has worked in special education for 30 years, and the related art - I thought it offered a nice example of how a little creativity goes a long way with helping our clients through anxious moments. Nice job Shelley! Enjoy reading...

Working through Getting Blood Work

I received a frantic call from a parent requesting help for her son. He was scheduled to have lab work that morning and her husband, who helped to restrain him in the past, was out of town. The child, a 16 year old with an Asperger’s diagnosis and two cochlear implants, had not been able to make it through a blood test without a physical intervention.

I quickly went into my, “How do I get through blood work?” mindset and drove off to the local pharmacy to buy my markers and paper. I actually drew the visual at the counter so it would be done before I reached the hospital.

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Adults with Asperger's at Work

The following are some questions from different employers I have received about adults in the work world with AS. While we know that there are adults with AS at many workplaces without the following problems (many in fact!), I thought I would share my thoughts on the following questions:

Is there an average work week that most AS adults are best suited to work?

People with AS are a really mixed group. They have different personalities, skills, abilities, etc., so your experience with this one gentleman likely will not be the same set of challenges you will experience with another person with AS. Some can only handle a 20 hour or so week and others are fully productive with 40. Read our article on the Social Thinking-Social Communication Profile. 

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Three Questions About Social Thinking and Empirical Evidence

I received an email from a consultant practicing in public schools (special education) and homes. In his email he expressed questions he had about the Social Thinking program to better understand the concepts used in it as well as other clarification questions.

In answering his email I realized how these questions might arise with many others; thus I have posted both his set of questions and my response to them.

  1. Empirical evidence supporting the efficacy of Social Thinking® is weak. Why do you not spend more of your time conducting research to document efficacy prior to selling it to parents and professionals as effective?
  2. Your website makes this statement: "Social Thinking® is required prior to the development of social skills".  Does this mean that your program, a registered trademark, is a necessary prerequisite to the ability to learn the skills we label social?
  3. Your website makes this statement: "In neurotypical (so-called normal-thinking) people, social thinking is hard-wired at birth".  Do you mean Social Thinking (the registered trademark) is hard-wired in newborns' brains or that social thinking (generic) is hard-wired in newborns' brains? Whichever the answer, what evidence supports this claim?

 

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Guest Blog: Psychologist Weighs in on Difficult Clients

The following are some thoughtful words from a psychologist to a 'social thinking clinician' regarding two teen clients who are struggling to benefit from treatment. I know most parents are working extremely hard to set limits and that not all children respond even if parents try! These parents should not read the below blog!!

This article is about the parents who are not sure if they should set limits or have clear consequences for desired and undesireable behavior, yet would like their children, adolescents or young adults to be rid of their behavior problems.

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Teaching Students about Their Learning Strengths and Weaknesses

Over the years, I observed so many students get upset by the fact they had “autism” or “Asperger’s Syndrome” or “ADHD” and in as much as they could verbalize these terms aloud they still didn’t seem to understand what their learning challenges actually were.

I also observed many adults explaining to students that the reason they were having difficulty socializing, studying, and learning was that they had “autism” or “Asperger’s Syndrome”, or “ADHD.” I thought this was a really abstract way of explaining to a student with limited abstract thinking how best to understand their own learning challenges. I also have observed that for many of our smart but socially not-in-step students, that they were using their label as an excuse for not working at learning new ideas; they interpreted the fact that they had a diagnostic label as a reason to not continue to learn.

I was also inspired by the writings of those who describe learning abilities and challenges given the framework that each of us have strengths and weaknesses with regards to our own brain’s design of our multiple intelligences (See books by Dr. Mel Levine and Howard Gardner).

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Web Tools for Promoting Social Thinking

Guest Blog by Sean Sweeney, CCC-SLP

Author of the blog SpeechTechie: Looking at Technology Through a Language Lens, which won the 2010 Best New Edublog Award

I was very happy during the hustle and bustle of ASHA Convention to have had a few minutes to chat with Michelle about some exciting and fun (not to mention free) web-based tools that have great potential to complement and extend social thinking instruction. That chat led to this guest post!

As we teach key concepts in the social thinking curriculum, technology can provide us with yet another means to help kids apply vocabulary in the course of a very motivating (especially for our population) activity.  Technology tools such as comic and video creators provide the additional benefit of taking something that is rather fleeting and providing a visual and replicable example that in many cases is easily sharable with parents. Implementing these short technology projects with kids while we are introducing skills also has the added advantage of working at a bit of distance from the kids’ own unexpected behaviors. A project we might create with kids thus provides a frame of reference for more direct cues as we progress. Many tech tools with potential for social thinking instruction are quite playful and easy to use, and are a good activity for parents and their children to explore together!

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Latest Research on Social Skills Interventions

While I have continued to review research since delving into what I ended up naming Social Thinking® in 1995, the last time I did a comprehensive research review, as it related to my ILAUGH model of Social Cognition, was in the year 2000. Ten years later it is exciting to see the trends in research as they are very much validating the clinical theories put forward in my early books (Inside Out: What Makes Persons with Social Cognitive Deficits Tick, 2000; Thinking About You Thinking About Me, 1st edition, 2002). One example of this is in 2002 I postulated that while the researchers are exploring the meaning and arguing to some degree the relevance of each of the core theories related to ASD, Theory of Mind, executive functioning and central coherence theory,  I was observing my students had learning issues related to all three of these issues. It was not one problem, but many problems working in tandem. The research now shows that to be quite evident (Sodian & Frith, 2008; Pelicano, 2010)

As I finish writing a major new project that hopefully will be published in about a year, I’m doing an extensive review of the research. Three articles that have caught my attention relate to meta-analysis of social skills intervention research. A “meta-analysis” is an analysis of the published research to draw conclusions more holistically from the trends being discovered from studying the research results in mass, rather than focusing on the results of a singular study.

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Social Thinking and Applied Behavior Analysis

By Michelle Garcia Winner and Chris Abildgaard

There is a tendency when exploring treatment options to build walls and think in the black and white.  As we have moved from developing treatment with people with classical autism to exploring and developing treatments for the entire autism spectrum and related disabilities, we have to shift from thinking there is one way to treat by embracing a range of approaches to better meet the range of challenges our students and adults experience across the “spectrum.”

One’s language and cognitive abilities matter greatly when exploring methods of intervention or “treatment”. The huge shift in discussing treatment for those with “Autism” to those on the “Autism Spectrum” is really about understanding how to design programs for students with different abilities in language, cognition, sensory and perspective taking abilities.

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Thoughts on Assessment and Data Keeping

I was recently asked a question:

“What I'd like to know is how you assess need and measure progress over time. I have many of the books and have looked through and read parts of all of them, but haven't seen anything that fits my need.  Our special ed. director would like to have some data to show that these groups have been successful.”

Here are some thoughts:

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Parenting Through to Adulthood

When our kids are in preschool there are tons of books, parent support groups, play groups, field trips and play dates. When our kids get older all of that goes away, during some of our hardest parenting years we have the fewest networks and support systems... and through this process our children are magically supposed to evolve from kids to adults. My own two neurotypical daughters have continued to teach me about what they needed me to teach them to help them prepare for life as adults.  Having worked with many adults with social thinking challenges they have also taught me about how they handled this transition. The lessons I have learned through watching my daughters and my clients' transitions into adulthood and abilities to sustain themselves as adults are these:

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Thoughtful Inclusion

I was recently asked to write about the social skills kids need to have acquired to benefit more fully from an integrated setting. While this is a huge question I will write some basic thoughts on this concept.

Many of you who are familiar with my work know that I talk about the social complexities of the classroom learning environment. While we often only teach social skills for the context of playing or conversing the reality is that students use social thinking and related social skills every moment they are around people including more structured environments like classrooms. While I know our political education plan is quick to advocate the inclusion of all kids into “integrated” settings as much as possible, I encourage “thoughtful inclusion” rather than making blanket statements that “all kids should be included”. I think kids with social learning challenges have extraordinary problems with processing social information “in mass”. These challenges are far beyond the challenges of students with more typical learning disabilities. I think  that much of the research on inclusion of special needs kids fails to really look specifically at the inclusion of kids with social learning challenges and how much they are learning of a functional nature of how to participate with others given the amount of cueing and support (Paraprofessionals helping to complete their work for them, etc.) in this environment. Now take what I am saying here with the understanding that I have gone to great lengths to explore different levels of the social mind in other articles on my website, so I am not making blanket statement here. It is all about really thinking about the student and what we are REALLY teaching them so they can learn to function as more independent, self-regulated students and then adults who can also have command of academic information (as much as their brains allow them to learn).

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Superflex for Older Students

More Superflexible Thinking on my part… - by Stephanie Madrigal

The Superflex curriculum was primarily designed for the elementary age children; however, many educators have come up at workshops to tell us that they have successfully introduced Superflex with their middle school students or that they have changed the characters adapting them into more age appropriate characters or even used an anime spin which many middle school students are into.  As we know all students are different in how they may respond to this curriculum.  Most students find it fun while some think it is boring or maybe too childish for them.

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The Superflex Academy: How it Began, Where it's Going!

by Stephanie Madrigal, author of Superflex (Part 1 of 2 part post)

Superflex: A Superhero Social Thinking Curriculum, ironically, was developed as I had to work on my own rigid thinking in trying to work with one of my students!  I began working with a student, Eric, individually, because he was so rigid and did not have the skills, to work in a group setting.  As I quickly realized, he and I were going nowhere fast.  He was extremely rigid and had difficulty following anyone else’s plans and had huge meltdowns when things did not go his way. So after a couple of weeks of banging my head against the wall because I could not figure out a way to reach him, I remembered that he liked Superheroes.  Hmmm… do I stick to my own ideas and lessons that I had already outlined for his treatment? I already knew the answer to this question--No way! I needed to think outside the box with him and find something that would motivate him or I was not going to be able to teach him.  

So the next week, before Eric’s session, I wrote, in big letters on the white board, "Superflex a Social Thinking Superhero!" Then, once he entered the room, I just waited to see if he noticed. It was only a few seconds before he walked over to the board and asked, “Who is this?” In my confident tone, I responded, “Superflex!  Haven’t you heard of this Superhero before?” I proceeded to explain that this Superhero was a little different than most he had learned about.  “Superflex is a superhero that hangs out in our brain and helps us to think about thinking about others, being flexible and making good choices,” I said.  “However, like any other Superhero, Superflex has a nemesis and his name is Rock Brain!”  I can remember consciously thinking at this point, “Is he really letting me talk about this with him?” he was completely intrigued with this concept.  So, of course, I continued…”Rock Brain is that character that also lives in our brain, and attempts to defeat Superflex by trying to prevent our flexible thinking.” Rock Brain makes us get stuck on what we want to do, insisting on doing things only one way, our way and does not let us see things from another’s point of view.”  Eric quickly agreed with this assessment of Rock Brain’s powers and then proceeded to tell me that Rock Brain was active in his brain a lot except, “He was not made out of rock, he was made out of titanium!”

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Anxiety and Social Competencies - Part 2

In the first blog on anxiety (please read first), we concluded with how the "Spiral of Social Success" can work for your students if you talk to them along these lines:

  1. You will encounter some stress approaching this situation that you are used to bailing out of from your anxiety. However, instead of starting by doubting yourself, explore what strategies you can use to help yourself deal with the uncomfortable social situation.
  2. Use your inner coach to remind yourself how much better you will feel once you use your strategies, that you are capable of using these strategies as well as what the strategies are to use.
  3. You feel better about yourself when you see yourself demonstrating your abilities or social competencies.
  4. This encourages your to implement the use of the strategies.
  5. Resulting in the fact you are training your brain that "you can do it" better than you have done it before!

Here's how this looks:

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Anxiety and Social Competencies - Part 1

The second part of this blog is now posted, but please start here...

An astute clinician I have worked with for years, Randi Dodge, strongly encouraged our team to explore anxiety as part of our social thinking treatments for higher-functioning autism spectrum disorders, ADHD and similar diagnoses. While we had all come to realize we had been teaching strategies to reduce anxiety, we were not talking about “anxiety” and really starting at its impact on Social Thinking/social learning because, quite frankly, we are mostly a group of speech-language pathologists and that seemed to be crossing into the domain of mental health. However, the more Randi brought in materials for us to review about anxiety, the more we began to focus on how strong a role anxiety plays in the hearts and minds of our higher level students and how this affects their abilities to demonstrate their own improved social thinking to others. For those of you familiar with my work, you know that I encourage a very interdisciplinary approach with our students. Meaning, we all have to learn about social pragmatics, sensory systems, emotional regulation, counseling, behaviorism, educational demands, etc., to work with our students. As much as we try to uniquely assess a student using these different disciplines, they learn as whole people!

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Social Detective and Superflex: Where to Start

Where to start when using our child-centered products, Social Detective and Superflex?

We are thrilled you like Superflex and are finding it so helpful. The response to this superhero comic book curriculum has literally been overwhelming.

I have recently begun to find the words to explain the evolution of the teachings of Social Thinking...

Superflex is getting great feedback on how it gets kids onboard and motivated to look at their own behaviors... the purpose of Superflex is to teach students self-awareness, self-monitoring and self-control using related strategies initially introduced in our core Social Thinking books, Think Social curriculum, Thinking About You Thinking About Me, etc.

We then released the Social Detective comic book to focus on the Social Thinking Vocabulary, which is essential to carry across the school and home day; this book is often the starting place for direct work with our students. There has been a remarkably broad range of classroom teachers, principals, parents and therapists who are finding the magic of our Social Detective and Superflex books for introducing Social Thinking concepts to students, many of whom are "neurotypical"!

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Preparing for the Transition to Adulthood (Part 3)

Finally, in the third part of this blog on the transition to adulthood, I felt a letter I received from a parent put a human face to the ideas on this topic... and gave the reason I write this blog, for the letter was in response to one of my earlier blogs. (Probably best to read the first part and the second part of this blog first.) Personally identifiable information has been changed.

Letter from a parent:

When we began to look at colleges for Mike, the only people who had written colleges were Lars Perner, Temple Grandin, and maybe Stephen Shore. The only book I was able to find was the Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities.

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Preparing for the Transition to Adulthood (Part 2)

This is the second part of a three-part blog. If you haven't read the first part of this blog, you might want to do so...

The following is a list of questions to explore related to a student when they are in mid-high school to help consider what realistic options are for the next step post-graduation. Rarely have the students I have observed "pulled it together" in their junior and senior years of high school, given the tremendous increasing pressures they feel as they start to realize they will be graduating. While we want to include the student in these discussions, we also have to realize that many of our students cannot imagine something they have not experienced. Many students assure their parents they will figure it all out once they go to college; this is called "talking the talk". Until our students demonstrate they can understand the action plans they need to demonstrate in order to show themselves and us they are "walking the walk", it is overly optimistic to trust our students know how to problem solve what their next step past graduation should be. While the "next step" should not discount what the student is saying he/she wants to do, they can only really be given that choice after they have been exposed to multiple post-high school options.

Consider these questions:
1. Does the student keep track of his own homework assignments?
2. Does he create and implement plans, even if he doesn't do them to perfection that are reasonable for working through his short term and long term homework assignments?
3. Does he know how to ask for help?
4. Does he understand how to manage his/her anxiety when dealing with a stressful day? Or does he require adult intervention for him/her to implement self-calming strategies?

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Back to School: Social Thinking Can Be Used for All Kids

The concepts of teaching Social Thinking and related social skills were developed for students with social learning challenges who were spending much of their day in a mainstream setting.  This fall I celebrate my 10th anniversary of speaking about these concepts in front of a national audience.  As the years have passed, not only have I started to dye my hair but the concepts have deepened and the teaching strategies multiplied.  One of the very cool thing is that Social Thinking concepts and strategies are now being embraced by inspired mainstream teachers who realize they need to teach more explicit social concepts to all students. While the ILAUGH model has brought awareness of what it takes to be a social thinker, it is really the more practical use of the Social Thinking Vocabulary and then Stephanie Madrigal's creative discovery of using “Superflex” to work against “Rockbrain” that has been so appealing to mainstream teachers.  This is lovely in many ways:

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Preparing for the Transition to Adulthood (Part 1)

It's no secret that our students with social learning challenges (Autism Spectrum Disorders; ADHD, NVLD, undiagnosed murky kid...) struggle through various aspects of their education. Whether their struggles are due to difficulties establishing peer based social relationships, completing academic assignments or both, our kids have not had it easy. Given a lack of development in the pathways to participating in related aspects of a school day that most of us develop intuitively (e.g., social thinking and related social skills, organizational skills, inferencing and synthesizing information, etc.), all persons who have come in direct contact with our students have had to think out of the box to develop more lessons and opportunities for learning explicitly what neurotypical students learn mostly implicitly. It's not this "easy" for our kids with social learning challenges, nor is it easy for their parents or their teachers.

I have seen too many "bright" kids with Asperger Syndrome, high functioning autism and ADHD march off to college programs only to fall apart and drop out. Stewing in anxiety and depression a number of our students don't take steps to progress in their learning and independence, they instead slip into dysfunction with few safety nets to catch them.

I think a lot about how to avoid this descent for those who experience it.

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A Writing Problem is a Thinking Problem

When I started working for a high school district in 1995, one of the first things I noticed about my students with social learning challenges was that there appeared to be a strong association with weak written expression skills. In fact, behavior and mental health problems in the form of anxiety and bouts of frustration were detected during tasks requiring written expression. My knowledge about the problem has come a long way from my early observations but the problems related to written expression can be profound for some of our students.

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"I Don't Care!"

"I don't care!" is a heavy topic to cover in a blog but here is my shot at it:

Many kids say "I don't care," "I don't want friends," "I don't like people," etc. I have heard these lines from elementary kids through adolescents. I rarely hear these from adults.

Here is my spin on this. Our kids struggle to do something that appears so easy and seamless to everyone else. Those that are "higher functioning" begin to notice that they are not fitting in, but they don't know how to make it right. At times our students have sat in "friendship groups" that didn't teach them what they needed to know, or the message was that "using good social skills" means you have friends but they sat in the group and they still don't have friends. They start to build walls around themselves and then fortresses: they need to protect themselves from thinking that they lack worth since they lack friendships. (Friendships do in fact help to validate our existence.)

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Gifted at Home But Not in School?

Bright kids who have social-learning difficulties often (or usually!) experience a "home/school paradox." This question from a parent describes this well:

I have an 8-year old Aspie son mainstreamed in a high-performing public school who is, according to IQ, Raven's and state tests, gifted, but he only performs above average in class, unlike his typical gifted peers who get selected for GATE programs because of their superior classroom performance. At home, he does amazing things, but not in class. Is it a lack of motivation -- his own or the teacher's? Is it simply a "Hidden Curriculum" issue?

Here's my take:

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My Dad's Remarkable Life - Part 1

Why is a book on the Holocaust being sold through our publishing company? To begin with, this is a book that was being written as I grew up. My dad is the Holocaust survivor described in this book, and his story of coming to terms with it is really in part a major story of my life. My mom was a writer; my dad had been out of "the camps," as we called them at home, about 11 years when he met my mom. They fell in love and married quickly. Little did my 1950s mom realize that she was going to "raising her husband" out of the camp experience and the related loss of his entire family, while she was also raising us three kids.

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My Dad's Remarkable Life - Part 2

Think Social Publishing will not typically publish books unrelated directly to the topic of social thinking, but when my dad requested I help him get his book back into print, how was I to refuse? My childhood was very much about my mom helping my dad to recover from the Holocaust.

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The Challenging Teen

Change is hard work. And change is all about being a teen. Boundaries are tested, conformity is rebelled against. I recently responded to an email about a challenging teen. The question helped me focus on the issues that you might face as you work with and live with your own teens.

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Important Update on "Weird Thoughts"

Due to concerns from some parents about the misuse of the term "weird thoughts" by adult teachers with their students, we have revised our definition of this concept in our You Are A Social Detective book. In the next printing of the book, the concept "weird thought" will be changed to "uncomfortable thought." Please read the updated definition and note to parents and professionals using these concepts.

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Social Thinking Across Cultures

I recently wrote an introduction to a booklet of mine that is being translated into Chinese for educators and parents in Hong Kong. The booklet summarizes the basic concepts of Social Thinking and the introduction shows how these concepts span cultures. I thought I would share the introduction with you...

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The Learning is Slow but Deeper

A practitioner recently asked me about the fact that she could get her 5 and 6 year olds to use the social thinking vocabulary, but they still weren't changing their behavior. Does this mean that they can't really learn to change their behavior?

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The Gift of Giving

It seems fitting this time of year to explore what the "gift of giving" means. Our free markets would like us to believe this relates to the act of buying merchandise for others; that this is what we define as the best form of a "present". However, the unspoken expectation is not in the gift itself, but in the delight we have giving a gift that makes someone feel good...and the gift need not be of materialistic.

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What Am I Trying to Make You Think? Social Thinking in Advertisement and on the Internet

Social thinking is wrapped around holiday celebrations. An article that ran in my local newspaper this week spoke about how careful we have to be about the "clever" advertising of "sales". What is stated is not necessarily to be believed. Consumers beware. For example, a popular chain store advertised "free $25.00 in shopping" but the fine print expressed that this was only if you first spent $100.00. Another store said "25% off the entire store" in large print, but the fine print said "on any purchases over $300.00."

In our society "read the fine print" means: know the deal is never quite as good in reality as it sounds on the surface.

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"Inside Out" Rather Than "Outside In" Thinking

"That has nothing to do with me!" is a common thought, if not an expressed concern, of many of our students. Students with social learning challenges have unique weaknesses in perspective taking when compared to their like IQ peer group.

Perspective taking weaknesses come in many different sizes (see my article, "The Perspective Taking Spectrum"), but one common trait I have noticed is that for all of our students they need to explore lessons that are directly related to their own experiences. I call this "Inside Out Teaching."

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The Anxiety Ah-ha!

I work closely with two colleagues, Stephanie Madrigal (primary author of Superflex: A Social Thinking Superhero Curriculum) and Dr. Pamela Crooke (co-author of You Are You a Social Detective). We now comprise the social thinking team that continues to create new ways to understand and teach about social learning. All three of us travel and give workshops, work in our Social Thinking Clinic in San Jose, CA, and create products to inform the public about what we have learned. While we are not technically doing research, we are constantly creating and testing our theories with our student and adult clients.

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Obama, McCain & Social Thinking

Thinking about thinking; this has become a focused aspect of my life. Fascinating to watch people think and then see how they respond to those thoughts. The presidential debates are a perfect case in point. Everyone in the audience was well dressed and well behaved, but I can't imagine there was a single person listening to the debate who did not have some irritated or even angry thought based on what was being said (or not said!). Even the candidates who were slinging mud (very subtly) at each other stayed composed; smirking when criticized but not showing sadness or obvious anger. How did everyone in that room learn such social self-control? From the audience to the candidates, from the pundits to the camera operators, no one yelled out "enough already; we can't stand to hear another put-down!", but that doesn't mean that most people didn't think that!

 

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