Social Thinking Articles


Assessing the Social Mind: It's not about scores

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Updated: May, 2015
© 2021 Think Social Publishing, Inc.

How well an individual performs on a standardized test in no way proves or disproves the presence of a social learning and/or social thinking challenge! Our tests just aren't that sensitive, nor are social abilities that clear cut.

Across the fields of psychology, education, and speech and language, IQ and other standardized tests are usually inadequate for assessing the depth and complexity of a social learning disability. This is because traditional standardized tests don't tackle the complexity of what happens in real time social interactions and social problem solving. Instead, they must be administered in a highly structured manner in order to accurately measure the discrete and specific skills they were designed to evaluate. On the other hand, social cognition requires the complex integration of multiple skills, simultaneously or in seconds. Social thinking requires the use of one's social cognitive skills in a synergistic and dynamic fashion in order to affect related social behavioral responses. 

Standardized Tests and Social Thinking

  1. Standardized tests aren't designed to reveal the complexity of social thought required to think through and engage in the complex tasks of having conversations, actively sustaining group play, participating in classroom discussions, and working as part of a group in the classroom. Instead, they are tools (and important ones) for measuring discrete skills within a contained and regimented setting. Unfortunately, many of us use them as the only way to determine if a person needs/doesn't need support. 
  2. Standardized tests do not require students to rapidly respond to socially based test prompts, such as interpretation of language meaning or idioms, even though in reality if it takes a person longer than 2 to 3 seconds to respond in a communicative interaction then we note the occurrence of a communication breakdown. While there are some informal measures (i.e., observational checklists, surveys, etc.) that are helpful in describing an individual's social learning challenges, few provide professionals with a logical, systematic approach to collecting and analyzing information.

In response to this lack of available tools, Michelle Garcia Winner created a series of informal social cognitive/social pragmatic assessment tasks and structured them in a "dynamic assessment" framework. Dynamic assessment refers to the fact that the individual attempting the tasks will always end up with the correct answer because the point of the task is to determine the level of support/prompts needed for him or her to have success. These tasks appear to be more qualitative in capturing social processing and related responses. Also, the dynamic nature taps into social problem solving in real time and is helpful in figuring out the individual's ability to problem solve specific situations. 

These issues are explored in more depth, with some examples of recommended evaluation ideas in Thinking About You Thinking About Me, 2nd Edition. In addition, there are several other articles related to the Dynamic assessment in the Evidence tab of the website, including:

  1. The Double Interview Task: Assessing the Social Communication of Adolescents with Asperger Syndrome
  2. The Double Interview Task: Assessing the Social Communication of Children with Asperger Syndrome

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