Social Thinking Research

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.

Social learning is typically a process that evolves naturally, starting from birth and continuing across the life span. Children move from primarily adult-based interactions to observational discovery of their peers as the prelude to play. Play as a developmental milestone also encourages other relevant skills to emerge, such as cooperation, perspective taking, and emotional regard for others. Not coincidentally, as children develop the ability to cooperate and play in a group they are readying themselves to learn in a classroom, when at five years old they enter school. As children grow and move from second to third grade, internationally the curriculum shifts from rote learning in a group to critical thinking in a classroom.  At this point children are expected to not only relate well person to person on the playground, but also determine the motives of a character in a storybook as well as make predictions about how characters are thinking and feeling. Alongside this academic and cognitive shift, a similar social/emotional change occurs. Children’s goal oriented play (tag, Four Square, etc.) evolves into deeper levels of personal connection, where children playfully relate to each other through conversational initiations and maintenance. Subtle but persistent advances in social development serve as the engine for subtle but persistent social emotional development. These advancing concepts are applied not only to our social interactions and group participation but also in the ways we interpret and respond to the curriculum within our coursework.


Social Thinking Training of Mainstreamed Secondary School Students with High-Functioning Autism

A Case Series of Social Thinking Training of Mainstreamed Secondary School Students with High-Functioning Autism

Hong Kong Journal of Mental Health (2009, 35, 10-17)
© The Mental Health Association of Hong Kong 2009

"...The results from the four-case series demonstrate that the program is effective in promoting the social communication skills of teenagers with high-functioning autism... To further investigate the effectiveness of the program in the local setting, 44 teenagers from 14 mainstreamed secondary schools were recruited into a follow-up program.


Published Research on Social Thinking

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

Brief Report: Measuring the Effectiveness of Teaching Social Thinking to Children with Asperger Syndrome (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA)

Pamela J. Crooke, Ryan E. Hendrix, Janine Y. Rachman

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Abstract: This is the first report from a large multiple baseline single-subject design study of children with Aut­ism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This brief report examines effectiveness of teaching a social cognitive (Social Thinking) approach to six males with Asperger syndrome (AS) or High Functioning Autism (HFA). Data included are restricted to pre-post-treatment comparisons of verbal and non-verbal social behaviors. Structured treatment and semi-structured generalization sessions occurred over eight weeks. Results indicated significant changes from pre- to post- measures on both verbal/nonverbal ‘‘expected'' and ‘‘unexpected'' behaviors, significant increases in the subcat­egories of ‘‘expected verbal'', ‘‘listening/thinking with eyes'', and ‘‘initiations'', and robust decreases in the subcategories of ‘‘unexpected-verbal'' and ‘‘unexpected-nonverbal''. Impor­tance of social cognitive approaches for children AS and HFA is discussed.


The Double Interview Task: Assessing the Social Communication of Children with Asperger Syndrome

Amy C. Miller, M.A. Speech-Language-Pathology

Department of Speech-Language-Hearing: Science and Disorders, May 2004

This was a study designed to determine if there was a difference in performance on a social communication assessment procedure, the Double Interview Task, (Winner, 2002) in children with Asperger Syndrome and children of the same age who were developing typically. There were 20 participants in this study, 10 with Asperger Syndrome and 10 developing typically. A difference in performance between groups was found. Children with Asperger Syndrome used more utterances but asked fewer questions than participants developing typically. Overall, children with Asperger Syndrome made more errors in each of the error categories including: having difficulty formulating questions, asking shallow questions, diverting the topic back to themselves or their experiences, repeating a question that the researcher asked them, making revisions including false-starts and self-interruptions, and needing to be redirected back to the task of asking questions.