Social Thinking's Mission
What is Social Thinking?
Michelle Garcia Winner, the founder of Social Thinking, explains the concept of social thinking and how
it relates to our imagination, Theory of Mind, and academic success.
At Social Thinking®, our mission is to help people develop their social competencies to better connect with others and live happier, more meaningful lives. We create unique treatment frameworks and strategies to help individuals as young as four and across the lifespan develop their social thinking and social skills to meet their personal social goals. These goals often include sharing space effectively with others, learning to work as part of a team, and developing relationships of all kinds: with family, friends, classmates, co-workers, romantic partners, etc. Our teaching process utilizes peer-reviewed research and client family values to foster the development of:
- social self-awareness
- perspective taking/theory of mind
- executive functioning
- social-emotional understanding
- social skills
- organizational systems
- reading comprehension
- written expression
- and more
We create quality educational products and services that help parents, professionals, and other stakeholders break down the social learning process to more effectively teach social thinking and related social skills in a practical and engaging way.
We stand committed to providing quality, practical information that is rooted in research, built upon real-world experiences, and is responsive to the needs of the people who use our materials and those who teach it. Our work is not static; it evolves and changes to reflect current thought and the changing social culture in which we live, while remaining constant in its adherence to rigorous standards of quality in educating and training others about the Social Thinking Methodology.
Who benefits from the Social Thinking Methodology?
We help people as young as 4 through the lifespan with solid language and learning abilities develop their social thinking and related social skills. Our strategies help parents and professionals teach social information to individuals around the world with and without diagnoses, including neurotypical children. Of the diagnostic labels that we address, some of the most popular are: Asperger’s syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorders Levels 1 & 2, Social Communication Disorder, PDD-NOS, ADHD, NVLD, Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder, twice exceptional, social anxiety, head injury, etc.
From past to present
Michelle Garcia Winner, a speech language pathologist, created the concept of social thinking (small “s” and “t”) while working in a high school district in the mid-1990s. The company, Social Thinking (capital “S” and “T”), was founded soon after and began as a small clinic serving individuals with social learning/social communication challenges. As Michelle’s unique Social Thinking (capital “S” and “T”) Methodology and strategies evolved and were shared with the public, demand for the work grew.
Today we publish our own educational products, give conferences around the world, and provide a large library of free articles on our website, all devoted to helping individuals gain stronger social awareness and social functioning skills through using the Social Thinking Methodology. Our curricula have been implemented in specialty and mainstream classrooms, schools, and districts around the world. More recently, the value of these teachings is being recognized on a wider scale and our work is being adopted as part of social-emotional learning programs for all students.
The Concept of Social Thinking: It’s Tied to Social Skills and Academics
Social thinking is the process by which we interpret the thoughts, beliefs, intentions, emotions, knowledge and actions of another person along with the context of the situation to understand that person’s experience. If we are engaging or sharing space with another person, we use this information to determine how to respond to affect the thoughts that person has about us to achieve our social goals (such as being friendly to maintain a friendship, acting generous to impress a date, and seeming unfriendly to deflect attention when walking alone late at night, etc.). Social thinking is our meaning maker - it allows us to interpret the deeper meaning behind what others do in the world, and (if the situation calls for it) prompts us with how to respond. A person’s social thinking ability has a considerable affect on his or her relationships and success in school and at work. It affects the person’s social skills, perspective taking, self-awareness, self-regulation, critical thinking, social problem solving, play skills, reading comprehension, written expression, ability to learn and work in a group, organizational skills, etc.
- At work – when we become aware that by loudly sipping our coffee we may be bothering our coworkers.
- At the grocery store - when we move our cart away from the middle of the isle so other shoppers can pass by.
- Watching TV – when we follow the story by understanding how the characters interpret and then influence each other.
- While driving - when we slow down upon sensing that another car will cut in front of us.
- When we’re on social media – to understand the intention of a message and its sender; for example whether it is to be friendly, sarcastic, flirty, compassionate, etc.
- In conversation – when we attempt to read the thoughts, beliefs, intentions, emotions, knowledge and actions of our conversation partner(s) and adapt our behavior to affect the thoughts they have about us.
The same social thinking ability required to relate effectively to people around us is also essential for success in academics. Students must use social thinking constantly at school, to work effectively as part of a group, stay on task, figure out the expected times to talk in class, and share space well with others in the classroom, cafeteria, and on the playground. Social thinking is also critical to succeed in individualized academic tasks, such as reading a book. Social thinking is required when reading stories to understand the deeper meaning behind the actions of the characters and their relationships. If a student has poor social thinking abilities, he or she will struggle to take the perspective of characters, figure out how they are affected by others, and understand why characters act and feel as they do. These students tend to be “more literal” in how they interpret social cues and can have very strong factual learning. They tend to do better with informational text but are weak in comprehending social literature.
Social thinking is also required to write an effective essay. We use social thinking to make sure our arguments make sense to our audience by taking the perspective of the reader and considering what a person may already know or not know about the topic. We must also take the reader’s perspective to consider how to organize the information so it will be logical for the reader to follow. If a student struggles with social thinking, he or she will have difficulty understanding the perspective of the audience and will therefore have trouble writing a persuasive essay that is well organized and easily understood by others.
Improving a person’s social thinking begins with improving self-awareness. Only as individuals gain awareness of their own thoughts, emotions, and intentions can they become increasingly aware of the thoughts, emotions, intentions, and actions of others. As a result, they are better able to use the information they’ve gained from their social thinking to inform many things they do throughout the day. Improving a person’s social thinking will help improve their social skills (social behavior), reading comprehension, written expression, narrative language, ability to work as part of a group, ability to make and keep friends, etc. Much of what we do in school, at work, and as part of the community requires understanding the perspectives of other people. It all requires social thinking.
Remarkably few educators, administrators, counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, speech language pathologists, parents and caregivers are aware of the power of the social mind and how it seeds our ability to think critically and socially problem solve. In fact, many journalists and politicians refer to social skills as “non-cognitive skills” despite the fact that our social behavior is determined by our social cognition (our social thinking) and has a large effect on the outcome of our lives!
Social Thinking’s three-part process of social thinking
A client of Michelle Garcia Winner, a 43-year-old engineer, found this step particularly valuable. He spent time learning how to observe people to be more aware of the social situations in which he was expected to socially relate to others. He had this to say about the experience: “Observing the social interactions of others is very helpful to me as I formulate how to interact myself. I’ve learned not everyone walks with their head down avoiding eye contact all of the time. I’ve learned when and how to smile. I’ve studied what makes a stranger seem approachable. In short, you have to know the rules of the game in order to play the game.”
2. When seeking to engage or simply share space with others, we use social thinking to adapt our social behaviors (social skills) effectively as a means to meet our social goals. To do this, we must learn strong self-awareness, self-monitoring, and self-control. We must learn how to adapt our physical posture depending on the context, how we use our eyes to better understand others and communicate, and tools for conversational language to relate to others.
3. Our social thinking and social skills directly impact how others feel about us. This impacts how we are treated, how we feel about others, and ultimately - how we feel about ourselves! At the end of the day, our social experience is an emotional experience. The purpose of social thinking is to produce social behavior that gives others the emotional experience you intend to give. The Social Thinking Methodology teaches people to be more aware of their emotions and better predict and relate to the emotions of others.
The Social Emotional Chain Reaction is at the foundation of social interaction and is at the heart of what we teach through the Social Thinking Methodology. Social Thinking (our company) teaches the Social Emotional Chain Reaction in different ways to different ages through our wide array of products, and to professionals, family members, and students in our free library of articles and our 15+ courses. One of our core treatment frameworks that teaches this concept is Social Behavior Mapping, which can be used with all ages.
The Wide Reach of the Social Thinking Methodology
- Social-Emotional Learning as described at www.CASEL.org
- Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports as described at www.PBIS.org
- Common Core Standards, State Educational Standards, and Country Educational Standards from around the world.
- Community-wide programs (sports teams, hobby groups, etc.)
- Schools: Public, Private, Charter
- Special education
- Mainstream classrooms
- Residential placements
- Counseling offices
The Social Thinking Methodology is recommended by:
- Speech Language Pathologists
- Occupational Therapists
- Social Workers
- Marriage and Family Therapists
- ABA Providers
- HR Departments
- Parents and families
- Individuals who have benefited from the Social Thinking Methodology
Testimonials from the Community
See what people are saying about the Social Thinking Methodology.