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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.

 

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

  • 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

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

The Other Side of the Friendship Pyramid: Dealing with Dislike

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

Working with thirteen year olds can be tricky, especially when they are resistant to treatment and appear to revel in being “the most hated kid in school.” In our first-ever Aha! Teaching Moment video, Michelle Garcia Winner discusses developing the Pyramid of Dislike thinksheet to help a client realize it will be tough to make new friends when he spends most of his attention on the people he dislikes.

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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!

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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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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.

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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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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?

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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.

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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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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.

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