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Should You Use Social Thinking with an Explosive Kid?

Michelle Garcia Winner

May 12, 2016

Michelle Garcia Winner

Copyright 2016 Think Social Publishing, Inc.


We thought it would be helpful to share Michelle Garcia Winner's response to a recent question. 


Question: I'm looking for an off the shelf curriculum for a high functioning second grader with ASD to use at home with an ABA trained behavior technician and BCBA for 1:1 direct service with transfer of instructional control to the parents. He has highly explosive behaviors maintained by a need for attention and access to tangibles with weak shifting and problems solving skills. Please advise your recommendations for a curriculum that can be used for direct service.... must be systematic and be able to take observed data for improvement.


We've paraphrased Michelle's response below:


We struggle to recommend one single treatment for any child with challenging behaviors - of any age - for fear that the team might use less sensitive evaluations to get to the root of the “explosive behavior” and may not fully understand the issues driving the behavior. 


However, we would strongly encourage your team to seek further understanding of the nature of what might be happening in your situation using Ross Greene’s Collaborative & Proactive Solutions model. The model is a way to explore, from the child and family perspective, the roots of why a child might show frustration and lash out. We routinely hear that the reason a child is explosive is that he is seeking attention, or has difficulty shifting attention, or has poor problem solving. However, another possibility is that he may have very weak perspective taking combined with rigid thinking. He may have a need for routines, issues with executive functioning, and/or sensory challenges. But, without additional information it is impossible to know. 


One additional resource your team might find helpful is The Behavior Code (Rappaport and Minahan, 2012). I believe it would be a helpful guide for your team to understand and evaluate not only the behaviors, but also the underlying function of those behaviors. From our perspective, it is very important that with complex kids (or really any kid with social learning needs) there is no systematic "off the shelf " solution. In fact, the process of understanding a student’s behavior is really just the beginning of a complex intervention process.


In terms of treatment ideas, our systematic curriculum for young children, We Thinkers! Volume 1 Social Explorers (series formerly named The Incredible Flexible You) might be really helpful for teaching core Social Thinking concepts. It includes storybooks and clear activities that can easily be used by both parents and professionals. It also includes rubrics for measuring and showing data-driven progress. Most of the activities in the curriculum are designed for group instruction, but the concepts and lessons can still be used with just one child and an adult. If you find that an activity is better suited for a small group, then try to include a sibling or another child, if possible.


The reality is that any time there are at least two people together - this actually constitutes a small group (also called a dyad).  And whether in the classroom, home, or treatment room, each person has to think about and imagine the thoughts, needs, and emotions of others who are present in time and space. As children become more advanced in their thinking, we encourage imagining being with others outside of the treatment room. We ask them to think about how the concepts and activities might relate to others and how to use the strategies when they’re in class, at the dinner table, hanging out with peers, etc. You could also consider using role-playing with thought bubbles, combined with emotional vocabulary, to encourage carryover of these concepts.


The Social Thinking methodology always teaches that the social experience is one that considers the thoughts and emotions of others who are communicating or sharing space. For this reason, we are a very different intervention paradigm than one that teaches scripted behavior for every context.  And, we highly encourage partnerships with other interventions or approaches (such as Green, Rappaport/Minahan and others) with all kids - and especially in complicated cases like you've described.

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