At the end of a very busy Monday, Nathan (my thanks to Nathan’s mom for letting me tell his story) walked…well stomped, into my office wearing his “funghi” face (great Italian expression I stole from someone… literally means “mushroom” face… trust me, its not pretty!), in a MOOD! His mother rolled her eyes at me and mouthed, “good luck”! Hmmm… I served up my best smile and cheerful, “what’s up, Buddy?” I got nothing! We slunk into my office to begin what might turn into a very loooong therapy session. Thank goodness Nathan and I had been working with Michelle Garcia Winner’s “Social Thinking” curriculum. We just might be able to turn this around!
I had the pleasure of hearing Michelle Garcia Winner speak at the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) convention in November 2010. After years of wading through tons of “social skills” protocols, here was a person who really gets it! She described social thinking as, “the process through which we think about people, their thoughts, intentions, point of view and emotions.” In a nutshell, our social thinking skills drive our behaviors (social skills)! To develop effective social skills, one must first develop social thinking skills. I became a convert! Right after her presentation, I bought an armful of her literature and started using her Social Thinking curriculum with my clients with Aspergers, high functioning autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, and weaknesses in executive functioning. The results are impressive!
Back to Nathan…. We had already finished reading and discussing, “You Are a Social Detective“, over a series of sessions. Written in engaging, cartoon and prose format, this book introduces some basic Social Thinking concepts: social smarts (social thinking skills); having your “brain in the group” (shows you are paying attention); “thinking with your eyes” (where you are looking tells a lot about what you are thinking) and “expected/unexpected behaviors” (expected behaviors lead others to have good thoughts about us!). We were in the midst of the “Superflex curriculum“, where our favorite hero, Superflex, (who doesn’t love a hero?) uses his awesome social thinking skills to defeat the villainous team of “Unthinkables”…dun..dun..DUN! The “Unthinkables” are my favorite part of the whole program! Dastardly characters like: “Rock Brain” (makes your brain stuck on one thought), “Glassman” (causes huge overreactions), “Mean Jean” (makes you a little snarky), “Grumpy Grumpaniny” (well, I bet you can guess what he does!) and a host of other foes sneak into your brain and interfere with your good social thinking! So, I pulled out our Superflex book to get down to business as usual. As we were reviewing the cast of Unthinkables (we do this each time to make sure they are fresh in our brains), Nathan turned to me and said, “I think the Unthinkables got in my head today!” (*fake surprise from me*) “REAALLLY??” I responded, “Which ones?” This started a great dialogue in which Nathan told me that something bothered him at school (at this point neither of us can remember just what that something was) and now he was being attacked by Rock Brain, Glassman and Grumpy Grumpaniny! Just talking about it solved half the problem. Nathan took care of the rest of the problem by pretending to escort this trio of evil-doers over to the shredder, thus ending their campaign to take over his brain! Lo and Behold – a smile returned to my sweet Nathan’s face!
This is just one (but one of the BEST) examples of putting Social Thinking into action. There are so many reasons I love the Social Thinking approach! The books are created to capture a child’s interest visually and conceptually. Kids can relate to the characters and find a comfortable way to talk about themselves and their behavior (“Glassman invaded my head and I really got mad.”). The program is flexible! Garcia Winner has a range of products tailored for children 4 years old through high school. For middle and high schoolers, we read “Socially Curious and Curiously Social” out loud and discuss how the Social Thinking concepts apply to family, school and friends. Targeting social behaviors without good social thinking often leads to developing behaviors that are odd (I have encountered several kids over the years who have been prompted to “greet” unfamiliar people with an intro such as, “Hi. My name is _________ and I like______.” Call me crazy, but that comes off as a little strange. (Would you introduce yourself that way?). But, the best part of using Social Thinking is turning funghi faces into faces like this!
Social Thinking makes sense! Check out some of the Social Thinking books and read them with your child. Perhaps together, you too can harness your super social thinking skills to defeat a team Unthinkables who are plotting to ruin your day! If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend taking one Michelle’s seminars the next time she is in your area!
(This blog was written by Miss Elizabeth; edited and approved by Nathan)