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Founder & CEO Social Thinking, M.A., CCC-SLP

Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP specializes in the treatment of individuals with social learning challenges. She coined the term “Social Thinking®” in the mid-1990s and since that time has made it her life work to help people develop their social competencies to better interpret and respond to the social world around them to achieve a lifetime of well-being. Michelle helps educators, clinicians, professionals of all types, and parents/family members appreciate how social competencies are integral to a person’s success socially, academically, and professionally.

Michelle maintains 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 globally presenting courses on the Social Thinking Methodology, an evidence-based approach she created that she continues to evolve and expand on. Michelle helps to develop educational programs, consults with and trains families and schools, and is a guiding presence with a wide range of professionals, politicians, and businesses on the topic of social emotional competencies. She is a prolific writer and has written and/or co-authored more than 40 books and over 100 articles about the Social Thinking Methodology.

Michelle receives accolades for her energetic and educational conference presentations, as well as her down-to-earth approach to teaching social competencies. 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 improve their social problem solving abilities and social responses.

Career Summary

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.

 

Praise

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"

 

Research

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.

 

Personal

Michelle lives in San Jose, CA with her partner and has two daughters, Heidi and Robyn.

 

Financial Disclosure

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.

 

 

Honors & Awards

Personal

  • Congressional Recognition Award, 2008
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    Congressional Recognition Award, 2008

    Michelle Garcia Winner received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for her groundbreaking work helping individuals who have autism spectrum disorders and related social thinking challenges. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey honored Michelle with the award, as the social thinking methods Michelle has developed are becoming the basis for curricula around the country.

  • Lifetime Achievement Award, the Prentice School, 2012
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    Lifetime Achievement Award, the Prentice School, 2012

    Michelle received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Prentice School on the 24th of February. Carol Clark, the administrative executive director of Prentice School, presented the award to Michelle at the Social Thinking conference hosted by the Prentice School in Santa Ana, CA, for her innovative contributions to parents, professionals and individuals with social and communication challenges. The Prentice School is an independent, nonprofit school for students who struggle with reading, writing, spelling, oral language, and math. Upon humbly receiving the award, Michelle jokingly stated that while the award makes her sound brilliant within her field, during her years in school she was an average student who planned on always being a speech-language pathologist. Even through her years working in the school systems as an SLP she stated, “the principle never knew what to do with me, so she just let me work with my students as I pleased. I was able to re-organize their class schedules so that they all were able to come to their speech class with me.” Her goal was simply to give her students the best possible education both from a social and a scholastic standpoint. It was during these years that she spent as an SLP in the school that she started the development of a social communication curriculum, which in time grew into Social Thinking. Michelle had never planned on Social Thinking becoming what it is today: a curriculum used around the world with all ages, abilities and cultures.

  • Outstanding Achievement Award, California Speech- Language-Hearing Association (CSHA), 2012
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    Outstanding Achievement Award, California Speech- Language-Hearing Association (CSHA), 2012

    California Speech, Language and Hearing Association (CSHA), District 4 – Outstanding Achievement Award to Dr. Pamela Crooke and Michelle Garcia Winner.

  • Award for Education, AASCEND, 2014
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    Award for Education, AASCEND, 2014

    We are thrilled to announce that AASCEND (Autism, Asperger Syndrome Coalition for Education, Networking and Development) has honored Michelle on Saturday, October 18th for her steadfast work with the autism community and in education! The mission of AASCEND is to build and sustain a community of support for adults on the autism spectrum, family and friends, and autism service professionals. We work together to create and implement innovative approaches in education, networking and development to address autism's core challenges. "It's such an honor to receive an award from a group whose work I respect so much! We need to stay focused on the needs of our adults as our kids are going to spend the vast majority of their years as adults. There are so many things for all adults to keep learning about the social world! Thank you for this award!" - Michelle

  • Community Partner Award, Massachusetts Association for the Blind (MAB) Community Services, 2016
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    Community Partner Award, Massachusetts Association for the Blind (MAB) Community Services, 2016

    Michelle was humbled to receive this award, here is MAB's statement about why she was chosen: "We honor you for your great courage and for the beautiful example you set for the others inspired to make a difference as you do."

Conferences

Course Expertise

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Social Thinking Across the Home and School Day: The ILAUGH Model (5 - young adult)

New information on writing goals and taking data with rubrics. Discover an array of strategies that bolster social learning and help improve performance on educational standards at the state level (including the Common Core)! Explore lessons to make the abstract social world more concrete and understandable. Through the ILAUGH Model of Social Thinking learn how social ability impacts academic success. Uncover how challenges in social communication, executive functioning and perspective taking impact written expression, reading comprehension, organizational skills, and working in a group – and learn strategies to improve all of the above! Rounding out the day: learn essential tips for effective IEP goal writing and data keeping.

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The Social Thinking Informal Dynamic Assessment and Core Treatment Strategies (5 - young adult)

Delve into the inner mind of a person with social learning challenges. Our Informal Dynamic Assessment is designed to uncover why an individual may struggle to work in a group or interpret information. Use the results to tailor treatment* plans and track progress. Through video clips and discussion learn central concepts for running effective Social Thinking treatment groups and lessons to use at home. Finally, explore three core Social Thinking strategies to use immediately: Social Behavior Mapping, The Friendship Pyramid, and The Spirals of Social Anxiety.

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Executive Functioning: Tackle Homework and Classwork with these Helpful Strategies! (10 - young adult)

<div style="text-align: justify;">Focusing on executive functioning &ndash; What is it and how do you teach its many moving parts? &nbsp;Like our social skills, our organizational skills are expected to advance over time without much instruction &ndash; though they are critical for success across childhood and adulthood. In this conference, discover strategies that foster an individual&rsquo;s executive functioning skills. Explore the 10 steps to completing a homework assignment and learn a strategy aligned to each step - including strategies to find the motivation to tackle a task. Strategies can be used at home, in the community &ndash; and in any classroom. People give this conference stellar reviews!</div>

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Implementing Social Thinking Concepts and Vocabulary: A Day to Develop Team Creativity (5 - young adult)

Learn over 20 unique Social Thinking concepts and vocabulary! Help individuals advance their ability to understand the social context and tailor their behaviors accordingly. Help others improve their social observational skills, how they work in a group, share an imagination, understand what it means to be a "Just Me" versus "Thinking of Others" person, and relate more effectively with language. Discover tools for teaching self-regulation, executive functioning, emotional understanding and theory of mind/perspective taking. Work in teams to develop lesson plans to implement new strategies in your home, clinic, or classroom the very next day. People love this hands-on, engaging workshop!

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“I’m going to be a video game designer!” Helping Teens Prepare for the REAL Adult World (11 - young adult)

Adolescence, angst, and apathy - the characteristics routinely used to describe teens and young adults who yearn for independence, but often have no plan for getting there. This transition can overwhelm individuals born to social learning challenges, even those who are &ldquo;bright&rdquo; with strong language skills. This conference focuses on helping parents and professionals prepare for - and respond to - this transition. Specifically, we will explore the more nuanced expectations that come with the emergence into adulthood and strategies to help individuals develop a more mature social mindset.

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Let’s Get Real: Tackling Dilemmas Faced by Adults with Social Learning Challenges (14 - mature adult)

Bringing a very practical lens to adult clients experiences. Identify the common social breakdowns that cause bright adults to veer out of relationships or fall off career tracks, and explore strategies to help them stay on track. Learn what it means to be an independent adult, the difference between a social informer and a social relator, and how emotions synchronize with our conversations. Discover the 5 Steps to Social Thinking Psychology and the Social Thinking Social-Emotional Chain Effect to which we all subconsciously react and respond. Adults benefit from direct teaching of Social Thinking and related social skills. Come learn what you can do to help!

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ZOOMING IN: Strategies for Concrete Learners (5 - young adult)

Delve into the needs of our more literal learners who may have diagnoses such as ASD, ADHD, language learning or sensory integration challenges. They are often perplexed by the abstractions of the school curriculum, show marked difficulty in reading social cues, and are often aloof and less organized.&nbsp; Discover how best to teach individuals based on their age and how to enhance learning in the inclusion-based classroom. Explore lessons that translate abstract social concepts into concrete ideas that can help improve social understanding over time. Participants are provided with tools to tie social treatment plans to the Common Core Standards. Audience members love the many video examples and treatment tools! <br />

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ZOOMING IN: Strategies for Individuals with Subtle but Significant Social Problems (5 - young adult)

Explore the needs of nuance-challenged social communicators who may have diagnoses such as Asperger&rsquo;s syndrome, ASD, ADHD, or social anxiety. They are often in mainstream education and struggle with the intricacies of social relationships, homework assignments, and working in peer-based groups. Discover effective strategies that encourage nuanced perspective taking and executive functioning while attending to the person&rsquo;s mental health. Take with you nuance-based social learning lessons for use in both treatment plans and the mainstream classroom to help improve performance on educational standards at the state level (including the Common Core).<br />

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Social Thinking Meets RTI and PBS: Social Thinking as a School Wide Systems Approach (5 - young adult)

This presentation explores the dynamics of using Social Thinking concepts in a school setting based on the differentiation models of RTI and PBS, while incorporating with existing initiatives already in place. Designed to address the diverse learning needs of all students, participants will explore how Social Thinking concepts can be integrated into the core curriculum to increase access to the State/Common Core State Standards for all students. Information presented demonstrates how the intentional teaching of Social Thinking concepts enhances student learning at the benchmark level, while decreasing behavioral and discipline referrals at the strategic and intensive levels.

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Social Detective, Superflex®, and Friends Take On Social Emotional Learning (5 - 14 yrs)

You've asked for this day! Learn how to effectively use two of our key teaching materials: our award-winning first book in the Superflex series, You are a Social Detective! and our Superflex Curriculum to boost social awareness, social learning, and self-regulation. Lessons support Social and Emotional Learning, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and Response to Intervention. These books are designed for elementary school-age children, but we explain how to modify them for use with slightly older and younger kids. Interactive, creative group activities abound in this conference to help our kids transform from 'Me' thinkers to 'We' thinkers!

Products

  • Thinking About YOU Thinking About ME 2nd Edition

  • This book outlines the foundation of the Social Thinking Methodology. New to Social Thinking? This is where to begin! It weaves together research with many practical teaching and assessment ideas, and provides a framework for deconstructing our social interactions in a systematic manner that makes sense to our students. A comprehensive Social Thinking teaching guide, every page has treatment and assessment ideas to help move us toward more effective teaching. see more
  • Good Intentions Are Not Good Enough

  • Here’s a guidebook for any adult who feels socially out of step with others. Based on years of clinical experience working with adults with social learning challenges, the authors present a primer about the social mind, social intelligence, and learning to read the social code. Practical strategies focus on the workplace, but are equally relevant in all other areas of life. (Previously titled Social Thinking at Work. Same content; new title.) see more
  • Social Behavior Mapping - Connecting Behavior, Emotions and Consequences Across the Day

  • Many individuals do not intuitively understand how their behavior affects other people. Social Behavior Mapping, one of the most popular tools within the Social Thinking Methodology, is a visual flowchart that is used to “map” the consequences of any behavior in any situation – good or bad, and brings to light the perspectives of everyone affected by the behavior. For use with all ages. see more
  • Why Teach Social Thinking

  • Social Thinking is different and far more complex then simply trying to teach “good social skills” to people who possess weak social abilities but strong language and learning skills. Steeped in current research and our clinical knowledge and experience, this book connects the dots between social–emotional learning, related social skills, and the Common Core State Standards. Appropriate for parents, educators, policy makers, or even as a university-level textbook. see more
  • Think Social Curriculum A Social Thinking Curriculum for SchoolAge Students 2nd Printing

  • This core curriculum book puts the muscle into Social Thinking teachings and related social skills. Detailed instructions teach adults how to expand on and teach over 40 Social Thinking Vocabulary concepts (such as thinking with your eyes, adding thoughts, and making supportive comments). Discusses how these lessons connect to academic standards, grouping students for more efficient teaching, and more. see more
  • Superflex A Superhero Social Thinking Curriculum Package

  • After students have worked through You Are a Social Detective and learned core Social Thinking Vocabulary, they are ready to learn more about self-regulation using our very popular, motivational tool Superflex, the superhero in our minds that helps us defeat our social challenges. This curriculum teaches students to adapt more effectively across situations and take control of their own thinking to defeat the Unthinkables. Comes with the first Unthinkable comic, Superflex takes on Rock Brain. see more
  • You Are A Social Detective!

  • You are a Social Detective! was written to teach both adults and children core Social Thinking Vocabulary in an engaging way, this books helps readers develop Social Detective skills to guide how we read a situation and others’ social cues and then adapt our behavior as needed. It encourages the reader to explore how our behavior affects the feelings and reactions of those we share space with. A fun and educational read for all! see more
  • We Thinkers! Volume 1- Five Storybook Set

  • This first volume of five storybooks from the We Thinkers! series teaches kids ages 4–7 core Social Thinking language and concepts to support their social learning. The storybooks relate directly to the concepts taught in the first volume of the curriculum book: thoughts and feelings, following the group plan, thinking with your eyes, body in the group, and whole body listening. Enjoy reading and exploring these social concepts with all young children. see more
  • We Thinkers! Volume 1 Deluxe Package

  • We Thinkers! Volume 1 Social Explorers is a multi-sensory social–emotional learning package for ages 4–7: five engaging storybooks presenting core Social Thinking concepts, curriculum book with lessons and full research review, music CD by Grammy®-winner Tom Chapin, and a free tote bag! In vol. 1, kids learn about thoughts and feelings, following the group plan, thinking with your eyes, body in the group, and whole body listening. see more
  • Superflex: Social Town Citizens Discover 82 New Unthinkables for Superflex to Outsmart

  • Unthinkables are appearing everywhere and this book describes 82 new Unthinkables trying to invade the brains of Social Town citizens! Come meet Antsy Nancy, Blurt Out Blue, The Enforcer, and many more. Superflex also introduces the Thinkables and teaches citizens how they can get more superflexible thinking power through his very cool Five-Step Power Plan. see more
  • Social Fortune or Social Fate A Social Thinking Graphic Novel Map for Social Quest Seekers

  • Through this anime-based graphic teaching book, tweens and teens will be inspired to explore how social decision making and problem solving impact their own ability to feel good about themselves, while also exploring how their behaviors impact others. This product provides direct instruction and guidance to our students and their teachers by explaining visually, with words and with strategy codes how to decipher social situations and related social emotional responses. see more