Social Thinking Articles


Just Because Someone Says, “I Don’t Care,” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean They Don't!

Just Because Someone Says, “I Don’t Care,” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean They Don't!

© 2024 Think Social Publishing, Inc.

We’ve all heard our students or children respond with, "I don't care," when faced with choices or asked to share their thoughts. And the more we push and prod and ask, the answer remains the same, I…don’t…care. Is it a shield of disinterest or an automatic response? And to make matters worse, we adults have our own automatic response, “Well, you will care when you want to get a job, start dating, buy something, get into that school, or _____ (fill in the blank).” As adults, we want and need students to care because that's what leads to motivation, right? Or maybe some students care about certain things but not the ones we think are important. Or maybe it’s just that our kids do care, but something is getting in the way.

We developed a teaching and discussion framework that we’ve used for years to help us get the perspective of the student in a way that many have found palatable. We’re sharing it here in the hopes that you’ll be able to use it as a way to start a discussion with your tween, teen, or young adult who drops those three little words often.

The Origins
Finley, age 14 and Autistic, was scheduled to come to our office for a Social Thinking Dynamic Assessment. His mom called to warn us that he very likely would not participate and mostly responds to all tasks with, “I don’t care.” We’ve worked with hundreds of tweens and teens whose immediate response is to “not care,” so we prepared a Likert-type scale that listed many different reasons we’ve heard this response during assessment or teaching sessions. On the left side of the scale was, “I don’t care because it looks boring.” On the right side was, “I don’t care, but I’ll try it anyway.”

When Fin said, “I don’t care,” the response was, “Oh, that’s right. Your mom mentioned that you don’t care, but just wondering which one of these is your “I don’t care”—or maybe you have a different one?” He read the options and said, “I don’t care because I don’t know how long it will take.” And with that one response, Fin worked for the next hour or so on all of the tasks presented. He said, “I don’t care,” many times but always explained his perspective, which opened up discussions and ways to better understand him. We turned that original scale sketched on a piece of scrap paper into a visual teaching tool that many other clients helped us modify to make it work for them. It is now one of our many teaching frameworks developed alongside and with neurodivergent clients and their families.

The Framework

Social Thinking Frameworks Set 2: I Don't Care Scale

The "I Don't Care Scale" gives students a way to hold their ground about not caring, while also expressing why or what might be getting in their way of making a choice or decision. It’s never meant to push or prod them into doing something but rather give us, the educators and caregivers, a tool to hear their perspective. It offers a means for learners to assert initial control over their level of participation and provides language-based alternatives to express their feelings. The idea is that this scale is the template, but that educators, therapists, and caregivers would modify the comments in the talk bubbles to reflect their own students (See downloadable template). The I Don’t Care Scale is part of a two-set collection of 26 of our most important visual teaching scaffolds for social learning and self-regulation.

When to Use
Keep an eye out for those students who routinely announce, "I don't care,” or opt out of activities or choices often. Don't rush into using the scale at the first mention of disinterest though. The framework should be introduced in a small group or individually, when there is some sort of choice that will be required and you predict “IDC” will be their response. Be careful to avoid a judgmental response to their expression of disinterest because this tool is not about labeling a response as right or wrong. And definitely no using it when tempers are flaring—that's a no-go zone.

What to Say
Start by acknowledging their statement with something like, “Oh that’s right, I know you don’t care but what I’m wondering is which kind of don’t care is it?” Or “I remember you said you didn’t care about _____. I could use just a little more information to help me out.”

Show the "I Don't Care Scale" and ask them to point out or say, “Which I don’t care is it?”

Often times, there's more beneath the surface, and this tool can open a discussion about their reasons for opting out or stating their apathy. Educators and parents should be mindful that expressions of disinterest may stem from underlying factors such as lagging competencies, anxiety, or just not knowing what the expectations are for the task.

Empathy is Key
To effectively use the "I Don't Care Scale," educators and parents need to adopt an attitude of understanding and compassion. This tool lays the groundwork for building rapport and understanding the student’s point of view. It’s about trying to understand the blockers this person might be experiencing. It’s not about demanding behavior change. So, hold your sighs and mute your corrective statements when a student says, “I don’t care.” Assume they are on autopilot or protecting themselves for some reason. Your role is to figure out why, and then support them to move towards their own goals and the collective goals of the group, and hopefully understand their needs a little better.

Related Online Courses


Exploring Our Children’s Stress

Instructor: Michelle Garcia Winner

Chronic stress and anxiety can impact children’s ability to focus and learn, whether it’s in the classroom or through an online education portal. Helping children metacognitively explore their stress is the first step toward their self-regulation, and this metacognitive understanding also helps interventionists (parents and professionals) learn how to avoid creating even more stressors for children during the pandemic


Demystifying Executive Functions

Instructor: Michelle Garcia Winner

Many students who are academically strong struggle with executive functioning, which can deeply impact their well-being in the social, academic, and job worlds. Join our founder, Michelle Garcia Winner, for this free webinar to break down executive functions and learn how to teach them.

Related Articles

Copyright © 2024 Think Social Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
View Cart Cart Items

Your Shopping Cart

Your Savings

Order Subtotal

Keep Browsing View Cart