Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP

Winner Michelle STTSC web2


Speaker Region: U.S., Canada, International
Speaker Focus: Workshops: A B C D E F G J K
  Consultation and/or on-site customized trainings to schools, groups, and businesses

Michelle Garcia Winner is a speech language pathologist (SLP) who specializes in the treatment of students with social cognitive deficits at the Social Thinking Center, her clinic in San Jose, California. It was her interest in autism while attending the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1979 that became the catalyst for becoming an 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. 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. Once her children became school aged, she chose to work for a public high school district in 1995. Her caseload contained many older students who had reasonably strong intelligence and language, but who lacked more refined social communication skills. Social Thinking was born out of necessity as a way to reach those “bright but socially clueless students” who needed more information than just what social skill to use. They needed to know why they should bother to use that skill at all, or even interface with others in their environment. The framework arose out of her early learning related to individuals with more classical autism, combined with her more newly acquired knowledge related to cognitive rehabilitation.

She coined the term “Social Thinking®” in the mid-1990s and continued to evolve the Social Thinking framework that today includes information, vocabulary, curriculum, and strategies that help individuals with social learning challenges become better social thinkers. Her years of experience demonstrated that lessons taught through Social Thinking could apply across a range of disorders that extended well beyond ASD, to individuals with ADHD, nonverbal learning challenges, as well as those with head injuries or emotional learning challenges.

Michelle entered into private practice in 1998 (part-time) and then full time in 1999 due to community demand. Both parents and school districts wanted her to work with their students. Since that time, clinical services have continued to evolve and expand at The Social Thinking Center, where trained professionals work with clients ranging from children to adults in individual and group settings. Michelle continues to carry an active caseload of clients herself, in addition to consulting with families and schools on Social Thinking and designing programs tailored to a child’s individual needs.

The heart of Michelle’s work is illuminating the often elusive and intangible world of Social Thinking, and developing practical strategies that can be easily used by parents, educators, and service providers across different environments. Teaching "social skills" is not enough - individuals with social-cognitive challenges must learn the why and the how of their own and others' abilities to process social information - a capacity that for most of us is intuitive, but needs to be explicitly taught to individuals who enter this world with a brain that does not process social information in the same way. The strength of Michelle's work is her ability to break down the research and abstract concepts and create concrete ways to reach and teach this growing population of children and adults – to give them the chance to develop real social skills they can fluidly use across environments. Her approach led GreatSchools.org, a leading national nonprofit organization, to call Michelle,"...the leading expert in the field of social skills."

Alongside building her clinic, she also began a company now called Social Thinking Publishing, Inc. to handle the growing public speaking demands from national and international sources, as well as to publish her own books and an increasing number of books by innovative professionals using the Social Thinking framework. To date Michelle has written or co-authored more than 20 books on Social Thinking. 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 2008, she was awarded a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for developing this treatment approach.

Michelle is internationally recognized as a thoughtful and prolific writer in the area of social thinking/social skills. She travels around the world speaking on a multitude of topics relating to Social Thinking, and repeatedly receives accolades for her educational, energetic, and enthusiastic workshop presentations.

...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, Psychology Today, "Spectrum Solutions"

More recently, research published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders supported Social Thinking vocabulary use with individuals with higher-functioning autism and Asperger’s.

Michelle’s passion in life is to help administrators, educators, and parents appreciate how social thinking and social skills is an integral and critical part of an individual’s academic, vocational, community, and personal success at all stages of life.


Michelle lives in San Jose, CA with her partner, has two daughters, Heidi and Robyn, who continue to keep her very humble, and a dog Bernadette, who reminds her daily that Social Thinking exists across species.

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