- Published on Monday, 02 February 2009 14:23
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...
Forward by Michelle Garcia Winner for a book being translated into Chinese for educators and parents in Hong Kong
I began my work with people with autism in the 1980s, all of whom had severe intellectual and social learning challenges. These students gained tremendously from consistent behavioral approaches combined with learning basic communication skills. In 1995 I began to work with students in a high school district who had good "intellect" but were lacking in their social smarts; many of these students were eventually diagnosed with high-functioning autism, Asperger Syndrome, PDD-NOS or ADHD. In working with these smart but socially clueless students, I found if I logically taught them first how people think socially, this made it a bit easier to understand why we needed to use specific social skills. Thus, instead of behaviorally reinforcing them to use a social skill we interpreted as polite, I would first teach them we have thoughts and related emotions about what people do. Then I would teach them what to do in order to be thought of as polite. This was how Social Thinking was born: through the study of how students could learn to think more socially with direct teaching and then create more effective social behavior to positively impact those around them (social skills).
As the years go by, my learning about the social mind continues, my understanding deepens and the group of students we can teach these concepts to has widened. I now know that social thinking is omnipresent, our use of social skills is critical to success not only in schools but also in our adult lives and that social behavior directly impacts the emotions of people around us. Social interaction is an emotional experience. Everything we do in the presence of others causes people to have emotional responses; most of these reactions we hope are minimal so as to not cause people to notice us in an inappropriate way, but instead just have normal or good thoughts about us. What we consider to be "social skills problems" begin when our social behavior causes people to have "weird thoughts" about us when we did not intend for this reaction. This is at the heart of Social Thinking, to think about what people expect from us in any given situation and to then adapt our behavior so they have reasonable thoughts about us.
At the same time we also have to think about the fact that what one perceives is reasonable behavior in one culture may not be suitable in another culture. A common question asked of me has been along these lines: "How can your theories and program be used for students of different cultures; after all, many social behavioral `rules' have subtle or not-so subtle differences, e.g. eye-contact, greetings and even humor are vastly different in Asian cultures compared to Western European cultures?" My theory was that the basic concepts explained in the teachings of Social Thinking are collectively a human experience, not one dictated by cultures. We as a people, regardless of culture, have thoughts about each other and those thoughts lead to emotional reactions. However, the way in which we code our behavior to impact each other's thoughts is cultural. Thus, the basic lessons of Social Thinking are widely understood across people but the way in which we express our social skills to impact others social thinking is dictated by our culture. The test of my theories related to culture arrived when I was asked to speak and teach in Asia a number of years ago. I had reasonable concerns about how this information would translate across cultures given that theory does not always translate well in reality. During my first workshops given in Asia, our social cultural differences were obvious; I had to learn to modulate some teaching methods to help me be better understood by the Asian audience; after all, I did not want to offend anyone!
What I have learned through this international journey has only confirmed my thoughts: we are remarkably similar on the inside. We enjoy being with others; laughing, sharing, learning. At times we enjoy just being in someone else's company without even needing to speak, other times we enjoy a good discussion. We all enjoy a good friendship but we are all also easily irritated by others who we feel don't are less than respectful. We are all social emotional creatures. However, choosing how to code our social behavior/social skills requires sensitivity in relating to others; meaning we consider what other people think based on our culture, personality differences, etc. We have to be aware of our social behavior and how it is being interpreted by others. In fact, people who live between two cultures (e.g., an Asian immigrant family in America) have to learn not only how to be bi-lingual verbally but also socially by adapting their social skills based in part on the cultural expectations of the person they are relating to.
The team of therapists at all the agencies involved in this project understood this and was determined to translate my information to share with those in Hong Kong. They could see that the core concepts of my teachings crossed cultures but that the nuance of the lessons written for an American audience needed to be adapted for those living in this Asian culture. Through a lot of hard work, they fine-tuned and even made large adjustments to my lessons to allow for parents and educators to access this information more easily. It has been a lovely collaboration filled with many laughs, serious discussions and explanations of how our cultures appear different on the surface even when we fundamentally desire the same thing (acceptance and respect of others). Through this process we have forged relationships by connecting our lives through our work, ultimately becoming friends. This appears to be such a simple concept, to forge a relationship and make a friend; in reality it is very complicated to teach.
While we engage in social relationships daily we, as people, are not great observers of what we do without thinking. For most of us, our social behavior was learned intuitively. Through Social Thinking, we learn to teach this cognitively for those born to social learning challenges. We can all help with this process by learning to be better observers of what we do day to day, moment to moment. It is our hope that teachers, parents, counselors will help to become more aware of their own Social Thinking and related skills by reading this information as it relates to those living in Hong Kong.
As you go through this process remember to embrace teaching with humor. This is all too serious to be taken too seriously.
©2012 Social Thinking Publishing - Michelle Garcia Winner www.socialthinking.com