Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC is a speech language pathologist who specializes in the treatment of individuals with social learning challenges. She is the founder of Social Thinking® with the mission to help people develop their social competencies to better connect with others and live happier, more meaningful lives.
Michelle helps educators, mental health professionals, and parents appreciate how social thinking and related social skills are integral to a person’s success – be it in relationships, at school, in the community, or in their career, and teaches strategies and treatment frameworks to strengthen social competencies. Michelle has a private practice, The Center for Social Thinking in Santa Clara, California, where she works with clients who continue to teach and inspire her. She travels around the world teaching courses on the Social Thinking Methodology, consulting with families and schools, assisting in the development of educational programs, and training a range of professionals, parents, business people, and politicians. She is a prolific writer and has written and/or co-authored numerous books and articles about the Social Thinking Methodology. Michelle receives accolades for her energetic and educational conference presentations, as well as her practical, down-to-earth approach to teaching social thinking and related social skills.
The strength of Michelle's work is her ability to break down abstract social concepts and teach them in practical, concrete ways to help people develop their social competencies. Teaching memorized "social skills" is not enough; high-functioning individuals with social challenges must explore why and how social interactions take place so that they can figure out how to navigate the situations to fulfill their social goals. By learning how to think about what behavior is expected in a situation (as opposed to reproducing a memorized behavior), individuals learn how to socially problem solve - an ability that can be used in every situation around the world – which ultimately leads to building stronger relationships.
Michelle’s interest in autism while attending the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1979 became the catalyst for becoming a speech language pathologist (SLP). Her first two mentors in the field were the late Dr. Carol Prutting (an early pioneer in the study of social pragmatics) and Dr. Robert Koegel (founder of Pivotal Response Therapy, aligned with ABA). While attending graduate school at Indiana University, Bloomington she became involved in the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) under the leadership of Nancy Dalrymple, who became another strong mentor for Michelle. At IRCA in the 1980s, Michelle worked extensively with teens and young adults who would by today’s standard be referred to as “classically autistic.” Her students experienced significant intellectual learning challenges, weak speech/language development, and very limited social learning abilities. Michelle excelled at combining her knowledge of communication with behaviorism to help her more cognitively challenged students develop basic functional communication and social skills through behavioral teachings.
After returning home to California in the late 1980s, Michelle transitioned to working in hospitals and post-acute hospital rehabilitation centers with neurotypical learners who suffered from head injuries or strokes. There she learned about higher-level brain functioning and cognitive rehabilitation. In 1995, her career transitioned once more when she became the SLP for a public high school district. Her caseload was comprised of many older students who had relatively strong intelligence and language, but who lacked more refined social communication skills. The Social Thinking Methodology was born out of necessity as a way to reach those “bright but socially clueless students” who needed more information about how to navigate the social world than just memorizing dialogue to use in conversation. They needed to know why they should bother to converse at all, or even interact with others in their environment. The Social Thinking Methodology was born!
Michelle opened her private practice, the Center for Social Thinking, in 1998 and was met with high demand that continues to rise to this day. Trained professionals work with individuals ages 4 through adulthood in individual and group settings. Michelle continues to carry an active caseload of clients, in addition to consulting with families and schools on the Social Thinking Methodology and designing programs tailored to the individual’s needs. Michelle also started the company now called Social Thinking Publishing, Inc. to handle the growing public speaking demand from the national and international stage, as well as to publish her and others’ books on the Social Thinking Methodology. Michelle has written and/or co-authored more than 20 books on Social Thinking and her work is being applied not only to persons with higher-functioning autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADD/ADHD, and related disabilities, but also more broadly to students in mainstream classrooms and to adults in vocational and professional settings in the U.S. and abroad.
In 2016, her approach led GreatSchools.org, a leading national nonprofit organization, to call Michelle, "...the leading expert in the field of social skills."
In 2008, Michelle was honored with a Congressional Special Recognition Award for her groundbreaking work in the field of social learning.
"...one of my favorite authors in the field of teaching emotional intelligence. Michelle Garcia Winner has pioneered some very helpful ways of conceptualizing and helping educators understand the social challenges that students on the autism spectrum face." - Stephan Borgman, 2010, Psychology Today, "Spectrum Solutions"
To check out the Social Thinking Research homepage, click here.
Research published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders supports using Social Thinking Vocabulary with individuals with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Learn more here.
Michelle lives in San Jose, CA with her partner and has two daughters, Heidi and Robyn.
Financial: Michelle Garcia Winner is employed by Think Social Publishing, Inc. as an author/speaker and receives compensation for her presentations as well as the sale of her books and by the Social Thinking Center as a clinician. Michelle owns the companies Think Social Publishing, Inc as well as The Social Thinking Center, Inc. and their related intellectual property.
Non-financial: No relevant non-financial relationship exists.