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 two core Social Thinking frameworks and strategies for use at home and school: Social Behavior Mapping and the Friendship Pyramid and related ideas for expanding treatment using these tools.

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)

Using video from treatment sessions, we zoom in on strategies to promote social attention and perspective taking (theory of mind) with individuals who interpret language very literally and struggle to interpret what others think and feel. These more literal-minded students—who may have a diagnosis of autism levels 1 and 2, ADHD, and/or sensory integration challenges—are slow to develop social competencies and exhibit a range of other learning challenges related to their weak socially-based critical thinking. Video-based case studies will offer treatment ideas and show how this type of student evolves in their understanding of the social world as they grow up. Attendees will receive checklists to help differentiate types of social learners and connect social learning to the educational standards. Group treatment ideas for different age groups will also be introduced. Attendees appreciate the practical information shared across the day!

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 autism levels 1 and 2, ADHD, and social anxiety as well as traits such as perfectionism, being oppositional, etc. Usually in mainstream classes, these individuals struggle with the intricacies of developing social relationships, working through assignments, and engaging in peer-based groups. Learn how even a slight impairment in flexible thinking, emotional understanding of self and others, problem solving, self-advocacy, and nuanced social interpretations can contribute to subtle but significant social challenges. Explore related treatment strategies while also learning tips to motivate students to participate in treatment activities encouraging the development of executive functioning, perspective taking, and emotion management!

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!

Speaking In

Recent Articles

I'm Interested in You—Well, Sort Of: Social Anxiety, Face-to-Face Communication, Digital Devices, and the Art of Saying "Hi."

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

As digital devices become ever more pervasive in our world, face-to-face interactions are decreasing while social anxiety and depression are increasing. Discover fresh concepts and activities from the Social Thinking Methodology to help everyone (typically-developing and those with social learning challenges) look up from their phones and participate in face-to-face interaction.

Read More

Superflex: Helping Kids Become Better Social Detectives, Thinkers, and Problem Solvers

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

Superflex teaches kids they can be a superhero if they use flexible thinking strategies to self-regulate. When sneaky characters called Unthinkables visit our brains and push us toward socially unexpected behavior, children use their strategies to defeat the Unthinkables and steer themselves back on the pro-social track. Learn about this positive, motivating program to teach self-regulation!

Read More

Stand UP with Social Thinking: 12 Strategies Teaching Physical Movement as Part of Face-to-Face Communication

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

It's important to teach individuals with social learning challenges how communication involves more than an exchange of words—our bodies play an essential role in face to face interactions. Here are tips for how to teach about and incorporate movement into your lessons!

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Add-a-Thought: Teach an Essential Conversation Skill

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner

Add-a-Thought is a strategy to practice conversational language by making comments about our own lives that connect to other participants’ life experiences and vice versa. Learn how you can use the game to teach skills such as perspective taking, sharing an imagination, conversational timing, and more.

Read More

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!

Read More

IEP or 504 Plan?

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, CCC-SLP

Our answer to a common question: My son has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Is he automatically eligible for services at his school? If so, what type of services?

Read More

Five Lessons You Taught Me

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner

In this special holiday letter, Michelle Garcia Winner, the founder of Social Thinking, shares five lessons she learned from the many clients, parents, and professionals around the world she connected with over the year. These lessons enforce that no matter our race, gender, or social learning abilities, we have a lot more in common than we realize.

Read More

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.

Read More

Research to Frameworks to Practice: Social Thinking's Layers of Evidence

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

We all want to use interventions and practices based on the evidence, but how do we explain the many moving parts and evidence related to Social Thinking? In this article we walk you through how to make connections between research-based theory to Social Thinking’s treatment frameworks to our related strategies and activities. We also address the recent National Standards Project findings, define key components of the Social Thinking methodology, and provide thought-provoking examples of how you can explain that Social Thinking is actively part of evidence-based practices.

Read More

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.

Read More

View Cart Cart Items

Your Shopping Cart

Your Savings

Order Subtotal

Keep Browsing View Cart