Valuing & Supporting Neurodiversity Across the Social Thinking Methodology
Our work has been, and continues to be, about valuing the input and point of view of the Neurodivergent (ND) community. We do not create materials, books, and games in a vacuum without meaningful dialogue and shared input with ND clients and their families. This is an ongoing effort, and the language we use to teach continually evolves with the feedback we receive. Our ND clients are aware and proud that their stories and insights are used to teach professionals and parents. They are honored to share how they think and learn, their struggles, and their triumphs and propose ways to consider teaching others with similar learning styles.
We, arguably, have not done a good job of informing the broader community of the deep connections between the Social Thinking Methodology and the ND community. From our perspective, our work has always been about this partnership, and advertising this broadly seemed disingenuous. However, a lack of transparency about this connection and explaining our core values is likely worse. To that end, the following statements related to the Social Thinking Methodology and partnership examples represent a sampling of our past, present, and ongoing commitment(s) to supporting Neurodivergent individuals and their families.
- The Social Thinking Methodology (STM) is for anyone (neurotypical or Neurodivergent) who finds the components useful.
- The STM values an individual’s right and autonomy to request support for learning strategies and building social competencies to meet their self-determined social goals (e.g., belonging to a group, making friends, advocating for oneself, conversing, building relationships, organizing chores, etc.). We do not believe in turning away Neurodivergent or neurotypical individuals who seek help.
- The STM believes the feeling of belonging is a fundamental human need.
- Belonging isn’t actually about fitting in – it’s about being understood and accepted for who we are, regardless of our neurology. We also believe all people should be able to seek help learning about their strengths, differences, or challenges. Self-knowledge empowers individuals to better navigate social situations and/or express, advocate for, and receive understanding and acceptance of their needs.
- The STM is not a good fit for everyone. Interventionists, therapists, or teachers who oppose teaching social, emotional, or organizational strategies should avoid the STM.
- The materials, books, games, and other tools found in the STM are, and have always been, developed alongside and with Neurodivergent clients based on their input, ideas, suggestions, critiques, edits, and approval. The STM does not use demeaning language, discriminate against, have prejudice against, or state that those “without disabilities are superior to those with disabilities” (definition of ableism/ableist).
- The STM does not promote “masking” to conform to neurotypicals. The STM does strive to empower people with social information to allow them to choose when (or if) they will (or must) mask for safety or to support progressing towards their self-determined social goals.
- We recognize that some people have the choice and privilege to mask for safety or goal attainment, while for others that choice is much more complex (sensory, racial, gender, cultural differences).
- We also recognize there are negative mental health ramifications for those who feel they lose their authentic self through masking to conform to neurotypical norms.
- We further recognize there are potential mental health burdens for those who have a desire or need to mask for safety (or to meet their social goals) but are unable to do so.
- Measuring progress, when using the STM, is not based on neurotypical standards (neuronormativity). Instead, learning progress is measured as compared to the person’s unique starting place or compared to themselves.
- The STM opposes the use of behaviorism or behavioral principles to make people produce social skills for behavioral compliance. Instead, the STM emphasizes teaching “why” and “how” people produce, interpret, problem-solve, and respond to social information.
- The STM continues to evolve. This evolution is based on the experiences, personal goals, questions, feedback, and concerns from our clients and their families. This evolution is also based on research and our clinical expertise.
- The dynamic nature of the STM means that specific language and strategies to teach about the social and organizational world continually evolve as well. For example, we are systematically updating every article, book, game, poster, and other teaching frameworks to reflect neurodiversity-affirming language and a broader range of diverse images.
- We believe in a wide bandwidth of social emotional learning differences. We further respect a client who reports that their learning “differences can also be challenges” if those differences get in the way of meeting their self-determined goals. To ignore this is to invalidate their goals and desires.
- We also respect a person or family’s choice and autonomy to decide if, when, or how they seek support for social, emotional, or organizational learning.
- We believe that the vast majority who teach using components of the STM do so in a proactive manner, with positive intentions. Unfortunately, there will always be some who intentionally or inadvertently express prejudices based on disability (ableism), or demand masking for compliance, or shame/blame individuals for noncompliance. Using the STM components in this way is unacceptable.
Think Social Publishing (Social Thinking) has:
- Supported eight paid internships for ND clients to experience the “work world” in our small business. Each internship was paired with coaching to build knowledge and skills for launching into their own chosen jobs or careers.
- Hired, trained, and nurtured several ND employees (10% of current employees).
- Supplied in-house diversity insights for new staff led by ND employees.
- Coached ND adults in how to advocate for themselves to obtain public housing, get job interviews, ask for raises, state their point of view in marriages and relationships, advocate in schools for their own children’s learning, ask for a promotion, apply to community colleges or universities, find community groups, and a host of other advocacy efforts.
- Offered numerous “pay what you can” coaching or therapy sessions to ND adults who seek support but have limited income.
- Developed, with the input of ND clients, hundreds of materials in the form of books, Thinksheets, games, lessons, etc.
- Relied on ND reviewers to participate in a critique/input process for books and other materials. ND feedback is incorporated into new versions of all products.
- Offered thousands of dollars in scholarships for groups, conferences, online trainings, and books to ND individuals.
- Donated hundreds of books, materials, and trainings to ND parents, parent groups, and nonprofits who support ND learners.
- Donated materials and trainings to clinics and hospitals who serve ND clients.
- Donated funds to build ND playgrounds in our local community.
- Donated to national organizations that support ND clients and their families.
- Recruited ND artists to illustrate images.
- Recruited ND adults to speak at our conferences and trainings.
- Recruited ND parents to provide ongoing feedback about materials and lessons.
- Recruited ND therapists to guide product and lesson development.
- Recruited ND committee members to serve as consultants.
Read more here: Respecting Neurodiversity by Helping Social Learners Meet Their Personal Goals