Social emotional learning is a lifelong process

We are all social emotional learners. Over the course of our lives, we cycle through different phases of gathering knowledge about how the social world works and then use that information to work (navigate to regulate) in the social world. Being a social emotional learner is a lifelong process.

The Social Thinking Methodology has age-based and strength-based products and materials for social emotional learners of varying abilities. We define social emotional learners as individuals who experience neurologically-based challenges (e.g., ASD levels 1 and 2, ADHD, social communication disorders, social anxiety, twice-exceptional, sensory processing challenges, etc.), learning-based challenges (developmental language disorder (DLD), specific learning disability (SLD), etc.), or have experienced physical or emotional trauma resulting in a gap, delay, or challenge in their social competencies. Social emotional learners who benefit from our methodology are those who “learn with language” and can “think and talk about thinking.” Individuals in mainstream or general education classrooms or who are considered to be typically developing or neurotypical are also social emotional learners. Actually, we are all social emotional learners.

For Social Learners

1. How the social world works

Helping social emotional learners understand the social world

The social world is an enormous place for social emotional learners. It is also a complicated, messy arena where social rules change with age, people, and places. It is dynamic and unpredictable and yet most of us learn to manage ourselves around others in spite of the complexity. Being a social emotional learner is something we are expected to do over the course of our lives. We all experience periods of development where we gather and learn new information about how the social world works at our current stage of development: infant, child, teen, young adult, or elder. Sometimes learning how the social world works is neither intuitive nor logical, but it is based on development. The Social Thinking Methodology breaks down this complex learning into digestible parts based on the social emotional learner's age and abilities.

Early learners (ages 4-7)

Very young social emotional learners observe others and gradually learn how to interpret what they see and experience. Young children develop their observational skills during play and from being around others. Introducing unique Social Thinking Vocabulary to early learners helps in their understanding of thoughts and feelings, reading others' plans, understanding groups and themselves as participants in the social world. Young children also need to learn about the social world in terms of social expectations for how to pay attention to what's happening, listen with their whole body and, over time, learn about their many different feelings and about regulating their feelings and behaviors by learning about their Zones of Regulation.

Elementary (ages 8-11)

Social expectations grow as children go through the elementary years. Materials and tools for this age range are more sophisticated but still rely on visual supports and concrete examples. Social emotional learners are expected to gradually hone their social detective abilities as they learn to observe the hidden rules and social norms around how people act in certain situations. Social emotional learners also learn about themselves and the way the social world works in social situations by playing motivational games (Should I? or Shouldn't I?) that teach about perspective taking and unspoken social expectations. This information seeds their emerging ability to navigate to regulate in the social world. At school the social world is also explored in literature, history, and social studies. Social emotional learners connect what they learn about the social world into their academic assignments in reading comprehension and written expression.

Adolescence and young adult (ages 12+)

Adolescence and young adulthood are tumultuous social developmental phases. As teens and tweens, learning how the social world works sometimes means shedding the ideas of childhood by understanding the complexities of friendship (Friendship Pyramid) and the four key components of communicating with others (4 Steps of Communication) while also learning how perspective taking becomes more sophisticated. Organizational skills become more dynamic, requiring individuals to prepare for increasingly complex assignments. Organized thinking goes hand in hand with Social Thinking in the social world.


Social Thinking Vocabulary continues to play a role as older social emotional learners come to appreciate that what they do or say affects others and in turn, themselves. In our materials, we make connections between actions, reactions, and emotions in our book, Social Behavior Mapping. Learning how the social world works is a lifelong process because our expectations for how social emotional learners work (navigate to regulate) in the social world changes too. Older adults are not exempt from learning and find that the guidebook, Good Intentions are Not Good Enough, is an explicit teaching tool.

2. How to work (navigate to regulate) in the social world

Practical tools to match social development and abilities

Learning how the social world works is only half of the social equation. Once social emotional learners have the fundamentals of the social world, they need to understand how to work (navigate to regulate) in the social world. It's one thing to intellectually know what you should do in a situation and another thing to learn how to do it. This step is about being able to actually do it during real-time social situations! The Social Thinking Methodology uses motivating and practical strategies to help social emotional learners in their quest to use all the social knowledge they have learned about the social world to help them navigate through social situations and regulate themselves while sharing social space with others, when interacting, when at home, or when doing a homework assignment. These tools are divided into developmental ages and abilities.

Early learners (ages 4-7)

Knowledge about how the social world works now becomes the launching pad that younger social emotional learners use to sort out hidden rules by identifying expected and unexpected behavior, practicing flexible thinking, problem-solving, regulating their actions and emotions, and putting it all together to make a social response (social skills) to become We-Thinkers rather than “me-thinkers.” Learners this age can also begin to see how their behaviors can impact the thoughts and emotions of others, as illustrated through our book, We Can Make It Better! Stories.

Elementary (ages 8-11)

Social emotional learners in this age range are expected to know, or at least be in the process of learning, how to regulate their own emotions and behaviors.  They are learning to use strategies for smart guesses, flexible thinking, size of the problem and other core Social Thinking Vocabulary found in our book, Social Thinking and Me. Having gained some abilities in social observation and being a social detective, learners are now ready to work (navigate to regulate) in the social world with our social self-regulation curriculum, Superflex…A Superhero Social Thinking Curriculum. Social emotional learners go to the Superflex Academy where they are exposed to their Superflexible thinking superhero abilities inside themselves and learn strategies for defeating their social challenges (Unthinkables) and activating their can-do abilities (Thinkables). The Superflex Curriculum uses illustrated storybooks and fun, motivating lessons to teach practical strategies for dealing with attention (Superflex takes on Brain Eater and the Team of Unthinkables and Superflex and Focus Tron to the Rescue), overreactions to problems (Superflex takes on Glassman… and Superflex and Kool Q Cumber to the Rescue), and one-sided thinking and self-focus (Superflex takes on One-Sided Sid and Un-Wonderer).  Other lessons deal with common issues kids of this age face through the Unthinkables WasFunnyOnce, Worry Wall, or Mean Jean/Gene.


Tackling the core Unthinkables and activating Thinkables is just the beginning. Social Town introduces social emotional learners to 82 additional characters and shares a Very Cool Five-Step Power Plan to further help social learners defeat their Unthinkables. Superflex games such as Superflex Bingo, Superflex Superdecks, and the Thinkables and Unthinkable Double Deck expand tools in a fun and motivating way. If you're wondering about the evidence for using superheroes to teach social skills, read more here.


Finally, elementary social emotional learners are also ready to take a deeper dive into thinking and learning about the impact of their own thoughts on themselves and others (The Power of Thought on Feelings?) and how to navigate to regulate their feelings and behaviors using The Zones of Regulation.

Adolescence (ages 12+)

Social emotional learners in the teen years tend to have more obstacles competing with their abilities to use the social world knowledge they have gained. For example, anxiety, angst, risk aversion, and normal developmental awkwardness can hinder how social emotional learners navigate classrooms, cliques, and community. The Social Thinking Methodology uses Thinksheets (rather than worksheets) to encourage deeper learning and build competencies. Visual tools, such as the Spirals of Anxiety, are designed to give practical strategies for coping with anxiety. Social Thinking Vocabulary such as learning to be comfortable with discomfort are key in this age range. Social Behavior Mapping is a powerful tool to teach the Social Emotional Chain Reaction (how our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and reactions are all intertwined). Teen-friendly Manga style comics in our book, Social Fortune or Social Fate, teach this concept and motivate teens to keep their social emotional learning alive.

Young adult (18+) and adulthood

Young adults (and parents of children of all ages) will find a broad comprehensive overview of the key components of the Social Thinking Methodology in Socially Curious and Curiously Social. This practical guide speaks to the teen or young adult through age-relevant stories and examples, in language that’s easy to read and understand. Practical strategies for both understanding how the social world works and working in the social world for mature adults can be found in Good Intentions Are Not Good Enough.

Developmental Resources to Guide Social Emotional Learners

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