Michelle Garcia Winner

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

Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP specializes in the treatment of individuals with social learning challenges and is the founder and CEO of Social Thinking®, a company dedicated to helping individuals from four through adulthood develop their social competencies to meet their personal social goals. Michelle coined the term “Social Thinking” in the mid-1990s and since that time has created numerous unique treatment frameworks and curricula that help educators, clinicians, professionals of all types, and parents/family members appreciate that social capabilities are integral to a person’s success in life, 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.



In 2016, her approach led, 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.


" 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 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

  • Congressional Recognition Award, 2008

    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

    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

    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.

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

    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."

Course Expertise

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

Discover an array of concepts and strategies that bolster social learning and help students meet socially based educational standards. Explore the ILAUGH Model of Social Cognition to help break down and make sense of the social world. Uncover how challenges in social communication, executive functioning, and perspective taking impact written expression, reading comprehension of literature, organizational skills, and working in a group—and learn strategies to help individuals improve in each of the above! Rounding out the day: learn essential tips for effective IEP goal writing and data keeping. The information taught in this course was developed to help students with social learning challenges, but teachers tell us all students in their classroom benefit from learning these concepts.

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

Delve into the mind of a person with social learning challenges! Our Social Thinking Informal Dynamic Assessment includes four unique assessment tasks, shown through video, to uncover how individuals process and respond to social information in real time. Then, learn strategies to improve social competencies to use in treatment plans and/or at home. Finally, explore three core Social Thinking frameworks and strategies to use immediately: Social Behavior Mapping, the Friendship Pyramid, and the Spirals of Social Anxiety. Learn about Social Thinking’s treatment pathway and tips for working with different types of social learners.

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

Learn to help students better manage homework from classroom to home and back again. Explore the terrain between a student’s conceptual need (“I need to do my homework”) and the frustration that often results from an inability to plan or execute (“I can’t do my homework”). Concrete strategies to develop organized thinking and related skills will be explained. We will provide specific ideas to: encourage motivation; manage road blocks, emotions, and distractions; increase effective use of time; track multiple assignments; and more. Information can be used by attendees and students across school, community, and home. This course gets stellar reviews!

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

Learn more than 20 Social Thinking strategies and three core treatment frameworks to guide individuals to better attend, interpret, problem solve, and respond to social information. Help individuals 1) observe and respond to situations based on the context and determine the “expected” behaviors of each situation, 2) learn core Social Thinking Vocabulary and concepts to encourage social-communicative competence, and 3) discover strategies 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 the home, clinic, or classroom the very next day. People love this hands-on, engaging course!

To Infinity and Beyond: Preparing Adolescents to Launch into the Real World (ages 11 - young adult)

Adolescence is a complicated time, and it doesn’t help that the social rules continue to change and become more nuanced as we age. Some students are willing learners while others appear resistant to helping themselves. What’s a parent or professional to do? This course translates peer-reviewed published research on adolescent psychology, motivation, self-awareness, cognitive behavioral treatment, social learning challenges, acquiring independence, and more into hands-on strategies, clear frameworks, and concepts you can use immediately. Taking into consideration that the adult world focuses on access rather than success, we’ll explore job coaching strategies for literal-minded students, strategies for becoming more independent, and how interventionists can help prepare our persistently self-protective/resistant students. We’ll also share successful strategies for guiding our more sophisticated students in developing their own public relations and self-management campaigns. This course is packed with information!

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

This course is specifically designed to address the needs of adults with social learning challenges who have solid to high language and learning skills to figure out the more nuanced hidden expectations of the work setting. Providing logical tools to make sense of the abstract social world, we focus on strategies to encourage flexible thinking, spontaneous perspective taking, and the role of emotions in meetings as well as when networking with peers—and more. Explore case studies to teach specific concepts and watch video of adults discussing the treatment process. Anxiety, depression, and inflexible thinking and their relationship to social learning will also be explored along with related treatment strategies. This is a compelling and important course!

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

Delve into strategies for our more literal learners who may have ASD, ADHD, language learning, or sensory integration challenges. These students are often perplexed by the abstractions of school curriculum, show marked difficulty in reading social cues, and may appear aloof and less organized. Discover how best to teach based on the individual’s age to enhance social-emotional learning. Explore lessons that translate abstract social concepts into concrete ideas that can help improve social understanding to foster social skills, narrative language, written expression, and reading comprehension of literature. Participants are provided with tools to tie social treatment plans to educational/academic standards. Audience members love the many video examples and treatment tools!

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

Explore the needs of nuance-challenged social communicators who may have diagnoses such as Asperger’s syndrome, ASD, ADHD, Social Anxiety, etc. Usually in mainstream classes, these individuals struggle with the intricacies of social relationships, homework assignments, and working in peer-based groups. Help individuals deepen their social interpretation and produce more nuanced social responses with effective strategies that teach perspective taking, executive functioning, managing social anxiety, etc. Additionally, learn tips to motivate students to participate in treatment activities! This course demystifies students’ needs while detailing how “mild” students have subtle but significant challenges—and teaches strategies to help.

Social Thinking Meets RTI and PBS: Social Thinking as a School Wide Systems Approach (pre-k - high schoolers)

This presentation explores the implementation of the Social Thinking Methodology in a school setting already utilizing RTI, PBIS, or other initiatives. Designed to address the diverse learning needs of all students, this course explores how Social Thinking concepts can be integrated into the core curriculum to increase compliance with educational standards. Learn how teaching Social Thinking concepts enhances student learning at the benchmark level, while decreasing behavioral and discipline referrals at the strategic and intensive levels.

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

You've asked for this course! Learn how to teach the award-winning You Are a Social Detective! and Superflex curriculum to boost social awareness and self-regulation. We’ll explain the critical scope and sequencing required to teach these materials with fidelity and improve social competencies. These books are designed for elementary school children, but we’ll explain how to modify them for use with older kids. Lessons support Social and Emotional Learning programs (SEL), Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), and Response to Intervention (RTI). Interactive, creative group activities abound in this conference! Ultimately, learn how to encourage generalization and social learning for a lifetime.

Master Class 1: Exploring Key Social Communication Concepts Through Hands-on Activities (kinder - young adult)

Our master class designed for those familiar with Social Thinking’s core teachings who want to explore hands-on activities for promoting social competencies. Explore the Cascade of Social Thinking and learn how to enhance our students’ social learning by focusing their social attention. Use our observation-based tool to develop a deeper knowledge of treatment needs, consider social interpretation and response, and improve functioning for those with social learning challenges. Video will be used to support teaching strategies, including longitudinal observation of individuals over a 10- to 20-year span. Plus, get tips on IEP goal writing and connecting information to educational standards. This course gets fantastic reviews and routinely sells out around the country!

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Recent Articles

10 Levels to Living Independently

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner and Dr. Pamela Crooke

For many of our clients, living independently (i.e. functioning without ongoing assistance and flexibly responding to daily demands) doesn’t just happen. We’ve developed a strategy based framework called the 10 Levels to Living Independently to help kids and young adults practice 10 essential independence skills before they venture out on their own.

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Social Thinking’s Social Competency Model: Attend-Interpret-Problem Solve-Respond

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, MA CCC-SLP, Founder of Social Thinking and Pamela Crooke, PhD CCC-SLP

The Social Competency Model helps interventionists—parents, teachers, therapists, counselors, and others—understand what it means to teach social competencies. It’s so much more than teaching social skills.

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How is Teaching Hidden Rules Different From Teaching About Expected/Unexpected Behavior?

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner

Hidden rules and expected/unexpected behaviors are core Social Thinking Vocabulary concepts and we often get questions about teaching these concepts. Here is our response, we hope it will help you too!

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The Social Thinking-­Social Communication Profile™ - Levels of the Social Mind

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, Pamela Crooke and Stephanie Madrigal

Joe, a six-year-old boy with Asperger Syndrome and a passion for chemistry, was a client in our clinical practice. His amazingly sophisticated vocabulary and language skills were a reflection of his strong intelligence, measured to be in the superior range. While a number of Joe’s academic skills were quite high when compared to his developmental age, he presented with complex deficits in his ability to relate to others, especially his peers.

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10 Steps to Foster Organization: Homework and Beyond!

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner

Our daily lives are made up of an endless stream of thoughts, decisions, actions and reactions to the people and environment in which we live. The internal and external actions fit together, sometimes seamlessly sometimes not; largely dependent upon a set of invisible yet highly important skills we call Executive Functioning (EF). These skills, which involve planning, organizing, sequencing, prioritizing, shifting attention, and time management can be well-developed in some people (think traffic controllers, wedding planners, business CEOs, etc.) and less developed in others.

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5 Assumptions to Avoid When Teaching Social Thinking & Related Social Skills

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner

The social mind is an information-processing machine and “data interpretation” is a huge part of that processing. Unlike facts and figures that may “compute” in neat and logical ways, deciphering and making sense of the clues and cues in any social environment is a many-layered, complex, and highly flexible process. Often that thinking requires us to make assumptions and guesses.

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10 DOs and DON'Ts for Teaching Superflex

Author(s): Pamela Crooke and Michelle Garcia Winner

Superflex® has become super-popular! We have enjoyed hearing from so many people around the world about their love of Superflex and the Team of Unthinkables and Thinkables and the positive effect the Superflex curriculum has on helping individuals become better social thinkers and social problem solvers!

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5 Teaching Ideas Connected to Pixar's Movie Inside Out

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner

Disney Pixar’s Inside Out gave creative attention to the feelings inside all of us. However, Riley, the protagonist, did a poor job of communicating and regulating her feelings – which led to trouble. To learn from Riley’s mistakes, here are five lessons for teaching kids to identify, communicate, and regulate their feelings.

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9 Strategies to Encourage Generalization of Social Thinking® Concepts and Related Social Skills

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner and Dr. Pamela Crooke

Our goal within treatment is to increase overall social competencies, and not to address, per se, a list of specific skills for specific situations (e.g., sharing toys at home or asking questions during an outing). By focusing on social competency, we are teaching individuals that their own understanding travels with them from place to place. The following is an outline of how to engage in a social learning process that includes and naturally fosters “generalization” across people, time and space.

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9 Tips for Talking to Parents About Their Child’s Social Challenges

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner

Teachers frequently ask: “How can I talk to parents about my observations of their child’s social challenges?” Michelle Garcia Winner provides nine tips to help professionals and parents engage with each other about social issues in an open, positive, and collaborative way.

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A How To Guide for Measuring Social Thinking Progress

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke

Whenever we talk about the complexities of data collection, questions arise such as: What do we do with insurance companies who only want to see numbers and scores? How do we work within our school district's policy for showing data? How do we write goals and objectives that comply with the academic standards, but still reflect the social learning needs of the student?

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A Social Learning Challenge is a Social Executive Functioning Challenge

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner

A classic example of a person with a social learning challenge is Jason. He is in 4th grade, has excellent language skills, and amazing abilities to learn information about his topics interest (i.e., history, math). He enjoys learning factual information and excels in fact-based academic tasks. However, he struggles to focus his attention in a mainstream classroom, participate as part of a group, explain his ideas to others in writing, filter unwanted opinions, and make friends. Learning facts is easy for Jason, but editing papers, organizing materials, and adapting to another's opinion is not. He prefers talking to adults rather than peers because adults tend to want to discuss his areas of interest.

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