Social Thinking Articles


"Inside Out" Rather Than "Outside In" Thinking

Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP


Updated: May, 2015
Copyright 2015 Think Social Publishing, Inc.

Perspective taking challenges come in many different sizes, but one commonality is that all of our students need lessons that are directly related to their own experiences. We call this "Inside Out Teaching."

When a person struggles with perspective taking, he or she doesn't learn as efficiently by simply talking about someone else's situation. Social scenarios and case studies about others and pre-fab social situations have their place in helping to teach concepts in certain situations. However, for many of our students, they don't see the point: "This doesn't relate to me, it's not about me, so it doesn't teach me about me."  I call this type of teaching approach "Outside In Teaching." We, as adults, assume our students can make the connections from the outside world's experience and relate to their own lives, but they often don't.

When the information and platform we use to teach relates directly to our student’s experiences, we call this Inside Out Teaching. Most of our students/clients who work with others in a group are able to generate countless ideas of what others in the group need to work on based on their own experiences within that group. For example, when students in a middle school group were inattentive when others were talking (but perked up when it was their turn to talk), we did lessons on how it feels to have people pay attention and not pay attention when you speak.

Here's an example of what we did:

The four students in the group were told to take note and remember how others acted when they were speaking. We then did an exercise where they were allowed to imitate the attentive/inattentive behaviors based on their earlier observations. For example, when Todd was speaking he noticed that Nate and Ray were paying attention, but that Scott was tuned out. So when Nate and Ray spoke, Todd showed the same attentive behavior and when Scott spoke -Todd tuned out. The connections made were very real and they started to self-monitor their own attentive behavior more actively, at times doing the "social fake" to look like they were interested even if they weren't (which many of us do more often then we want to admit).

If you stop to really think about it, it makes sense that individuals with perspective taking issues will learn best and be more actively involved in situations where they participate rather than depend on abstract connections about other persons' experiences. Inside Out teaching needs to be used all the way through adulthood!

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