Social Thinking Articles


Parents: Is Your Treatment Team Teaching Social Thinking Well? 15 Questions to Ask Professionals in Private Practice

Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP

Parents Treatment

Published: May, 2016
Copyright 2016 Think Social Publishing, Inc.

In the early 1990s I coined the term “Social Thinking” and began creating a teaching/ treatment methodology that is today being used in schools, clinics, and homes across North America and around the world. Teachers are infusing the Social Thinking Vocabulary into daily class work, Pre-K teachers are introducing early learners to the Social Thinking Vocabulary, entire schools have adopted the Superflex® curriculum to build strong social awareness and “social smarts” in all their students, and clinics and treatment programs are basing services and programs for all ages on Social Thinking curricula, materials, and teaching frameworks. Why? Because Social Thinking works!

Just like any good program, Social Thinking is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. It’s designed to be flexible (flexible thinking is the heart of what we teach) and we encourage parents and professionals to adapt our materials to fit the needs of the students or individuals with whom they work. The flip side of this encouraged “shared creative thought” approach is that the methodology can, and is, being used incorrectly, not as it was originally taught. The most frequent mistake we see: people teaching Social Thinking concepts too quickly and expecting students to simply change their behavior based on the terminology we have created. 

Social Thinking teachings take parents, professionals and students on a journey from learning about their own and others’ social thoughts to then learning to self-regulate their own behavior to meet their personal social goals (e.g. to be included, accepted, etc.).

Maybe you’ve noticed programs based on Social Thinking popping up in your community and wondered if they’re associated with us, approved or endorsed by us, or even if they’re doing a good job teaching our methodology. We only have two licensed Social Thinking clinics. One is in San Jose, California and the other is near Boston, Massachusetts. Unless your child is attending one of these two clinics, it is important to explore the knowledge and experience your treatment professional offers with regard to teaching the Social Thinking Methodology in their privately-funded clinic program. We feel that if someone is profiting from advertising they are teaching our concepts, they should be able to demonstrate strong proficiency in their understanding of these concepts! 

Since first publishing our books in 2000 and introducing our methodology through speaking at a wide range of conferences over the past years, many people are enthusiastic about utilizing our materials in their clinics. We have developed this work to share with the public and we like the idea of people using our information well to help others in their community. All that being said, we also know that treatment professionals are not all equal. It takes time and energy to grasp the finer teachings of Social Thinking and to understand how to morph the concepts with students as they age. 

Parents want to find practitioners who have been thoughtfully self-trained by reading our books and articles, attending conference presentations we offer, and/or attending the Clinical Training program offered in one of our two licensed clinics in the USA. 

To help parents’ “due diligence” in assessing the knowledge and expertise of the private practitioners who provide Social Thinking services and programs, we have developed a set of questions you can ask professionals to better gauge their understanding and teaching of our methodology. 

  1. Has your professional attended Social Thinking course days sponsored by Think Social Publishing? (Think Social Publishing, Inc. is the company’s “official” name but we also do business as Social Thinking Publishing.) If so, which ones, who presented the information, and when did you attend them? Find a list of our courses within the Conferences tab. Seek practitioners who can report to you that they have attended several presentations. That gives them a broader understanding of our methodology and how it should be taught across different age groups and functioning levels. We continually update information in our courses to reflect our most current thinking. Look for practitioners who have attended current programs, rather than one event that took place years ago. If the course was presented more than two years ago, their understanding on how to effectively teach Social Thinking may be outdated. 
    1. Be sure they learned about Social Thinking directly from me, Michelle Garcia Winner, or a member of our Social Thinking Training and Speakers’ Collaborative. A list of members of the Collaborative can be found in this same section of our website. Only these individuals are approved to give workshops or training programs on Social Thinking. If the professional group you’re investigating has not been trained by a member of the Collaborative, or attended courses given by one of these people, their knowledge of Social Thinking is “second hand” and may or may not be true to our methodology.
  3. Has your professional attended the Clinical Training Program offered by Think Social Publishing? If so, when? This is an intensive, small group training program where participants are mentored directly at one of our two licensed Social Thinking clinics. Again, look for more recent training, in the last five years. Anything older than that means their knowledge of Social Thinking is probably out of date. (Find a list of professionals who have attended this program through our Directory of Clinical Trainees.)
  5. Which books has your professional read on the Social Thinking Methodology? At minimum, they should have read either Thinking About YOU Thinking About ME or Inside Out, AND they should have read Think Social! A Social Thinking Curriculum. An excellent additional book that explains our core Social Thinking concepts is the two-book set, Social Thinking and Me. This book is great for educating both interventionists (educators, clinicians, social workers, psychologists, etc.) and the children with whom they work to establish a common language to discuss various social concepts.
    1. If they teach or offer programs on Superflex®, our superhero Social Thinking curriculum, at minimum they should have read one of the core books mentioned above AND also read You Are a Social Detective (this is an important first step and the precursor to teaching Superflex correctly) and the Superflex Curriculum two-book set. A plus is them being familiar with Superflex’s Five Step Power Plan, which helps them teach Superflex at a deeper level to students. 
    2. For groups/programs for preschool and younger children, look for the professional to be teaching concepts based on We Thinkers! Volume 1 Social Explorers and We Thinkers! Volume 2 Social Problem Solvers. This is in addition to having read one or more of the core Social Thinking books.
  6. What Social Thinking concepts and frameworks does your professional use in your group/treatment sessions? Some include the ILAUGH Model, the Social Thinking Vocabulary, Social Behavior Mapping, the Four Steps of Communication, the Four Steps of Perspective Taking, the Friendship Peer-a-Mid, being a Social Detective, and more. (Learn about these frameworks in our library of Articles.) 
  8. Does your professional use Social Thinking Vocabulary when teaching students? If so, which concepts do they think are integral to your child’s learning? A few of the mainstay vocabulary concepts that are at the foundation of teaching Social Thinking are:
    1. expected/unexpected thoughts and behaviors
    2. the group plan
    3. body in the group/brain in the group
    4. thinking with your eyes
    5. whole body listening
    6. smart guess/wacky guess
    7. flexible vs stuck thinking
    8. size of the problem/size of the reaction
    9. sharing an imagination
    10. social wonder/world wonder
  10. Does your professional teach one social learning concept per week? If your professional describes that s/he is teaching students from a prescribed curriculum, where one concept is taught per week, then they are not teaching Social Thinking in the manner it was intended. Students with social learning challenges need lessons to be taught slowly and over time, evolving from a thinking base and moving toward better self-awareness and then self-regulation. It is simply not feasible for a strong social teaching program to teach kids with social learning differences on a prescribed and exacting pace. Many of our materials now contain a “Fidelity Checklist” in the front of our books with recommendations on how much time per session and overall to spend in teaching a particular work. Ask if they abide by these recommendations for what we consider to be best-practice teaching guidelines.
  12. What is the difference between teaching Social Thinking and teaching social skills? Which do they emphasize in their program? When teaching Social Thinking the focus of the treatment program should start with teaching relevant core Social Thinking concepts and then encouraging further development of social and situational self-awareness with regard to the concept. This is followed by helping children learn to self-regulate their behavior to ultimately demonstrate the desired behavior change. Social Thinking teachings help students better observe the social world to explore how they can problem solve within their given situation. As one problem is solved, they learn to self-regulate their behavior. If a parent/caregiver is repeatedly told their child’s social skills or “social thinking program” is about targeting behavior change as the primary focus, your professional is likely implementing our teaching strategies insufficiently.
  14. Is your practitioner able to explain how Social Thinking Methodology relates to social academic lessons such as reading comprehension of literature and written expression? As our students build their social abilities, they will find this same information is used when they need to interpret and respond to socially-based academic information. If we are teaching a student to be more aware of another’s perspective when engaging in a face-to-face interaction, we can then help the student see that this same knowledge is used when imagining the perspective of a character written about in a book, or that people form perspectives about us when they read our written essays, etc. If your professional cannot explain this they will be less helpful to you in understanding your child holistically.
  16. To what extent does your practitioner use the Social Thinking Social-Communication Profile (ST-SCP) in assessing a child’s social learning strengths and weaknesses? The Profile outlines the various levels of the social mind we notice in individuals with social learning challenges, on a spectrum of ability from those who are more challenged social learners to those who have more subtle but significant social learning weaknesses. It’s a framework that helps adults better understand the learning strengths and weaknesses in individuals at the level of social processing. 
  18. How does your professional group students/individuals for treatment or group work? It is important to use the ST-SCP to guide how individuals are grouped and to figure out specific treatment decisions from a Social Thinking perspective. Grouping students based on convenience, a label or diagnosis, age, or IQ is not an approach we advocate. Students grouped together poorly leads to poor treatment, possibly students becoming disenchanted with the treatment process, and a waste of treatment dollars! 
  20. Does your professional know that our information can be used for students of all ages beginning at 4 years old? Social Thinking concepts, strategies, and materials exist for all ages, from Pre-K to adult. Look for practitioners who understand this and support it in their answer to you. If you hear that it’s designed only for a specific age range, or only for “kids” be cautious. That practitioner does not fully understand our teachings or our methodology. (Note: a practitioner saying it’s designed for all ages, but that they only offer programs for a certain range of students/clients is okay!)
  22. To what extent does your practitioner incorporate cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) principles into your program? CBT places an emphasis on thinking through problems or challenges, changing one’s perspective toward the issue, rather than focusing on behavior as the primary avenue for change. The Social Thinking Methodology is based on CBT.
  24. What other social learning methods/programs does your professional use in the treatment sessions? Examples include the Incredible 5-Point Scale, The DIR® Model (Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based) and its related component Floortime®, The SCERTS® Model (Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, and Transactional Support), RDI (Relationship Development Intervention), etc. Blending other treatment models into a child’s program can be helpful, and Social Thinking dovetails well with anyProfessionals/Clinical Trainee Directory. of these, including a functionally-based ABA program! However, Social Thinking is not helpful with discrete trial training. A practitioner well-versed in teaching Social Thinking will be able to adapt our concepts and strategies to work well with any of these other teaching programs.
  26. I hear a lot about The Zones of Regulation®. Is it part of the Social Thinking Methodology? The Zones of Regulation, written by Leah Kuypers, was published by Think Social Publishing. The Zones of Regulation is a well crafted strategy-based framework; it is one of many strategy-based frameworks offered through Social Thinking. The Zones of Regulation helps organize how we understand our feelings and emotions across four different “zones.”  There are recommended sensory and perspective taking “tools” or strategies to help students better understand how to manage their emotions within whatever zone they find themselves. Embedded in The Zones of Regulation book are some short descriptions of other core Social Thinking frameworks and motivational tools. The Zones of Regulation is a tool that is part of our larger body of work related to teaching Social Thinking and related social skills. Teaching “Zones” by itself, away from other Social Thinking lessons and Social Thinking’s core philosophy, means a professional is not fully implementing the teaching of Social Thinking. 
  28. Each time your child attends a treatment session does your professional share with you, the caregiver, what lessons were covered and how you can use these concepts at home? Parents/caregivers should be briefed on the core concepts explored in any Social Thinking treatment session. Since Social Thinking is a language-based teaching approach, your professional should be able to explain to you – using Social Thinking’s treatment frameworks and strategies - what your child was learning with regard to his or her understanding of social concepts, social self-awareness, or your child’s ability to learn to self-regulate these concepts. Parents/caregivers will then want to extend this teaching by further talking about or demonstrating to the child the relevance of these concepts in different settings away from the therapy room: in the community, at school and at home with the rest of the family. All Social Thinking teachings are designed to be “portable” meaning the core frameworks and concepts can be explored in any situation across contexts and cultures. 

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