Social Thinking

This clip explains what social thinking is.  Michelle Garcia created the term social thinking.  She explains that it is the ability to consider your own and others (whether it be in a book, with peers or the teacher teaching in a classroom) thoughts, emotions, beliefs and intentions to be able to respond and understand what is going on through social interactions.  Think of a child reading a book and trying to explain the characters without the ability to imagine others experiences?  This would be really hard.  As teachers we need to bring in imaginative play in the classrooms to encourage good social skills.  We need to teach our kids social thinking skills at a young age so it becomes habit and they have a lot of practice.  We need to teach self- regulation so students can have successful interactions, instead of being seen as someone who freaks out, or a cry baby.  We need to help kids answer the question, how do I want people to see me?  We need to learn how to adapt our behaviour based on the people and the situation so people react to you how you had hoped.  We need to teach problem solving to help meet these goals.

There are a few social thinking curriculums that would be really classroom friendly.  The incredible flexible you (Michelle Garcia Winner) series 1, would be best with ages 4-8, but anyone on the spectrum would benefit from these skills.  The books, are about a group of children that go on adventures exploring a number of social issues.  The first being, whole body listening.  This seems like an easy concept but you would be surprised the amount of kindergarteners that need help learning this skill.  The next book is called Body in the group, teaching what it looks like to have your whole body participating in an activity.  They go on to, thinking with your eyes, which is like tracking and learning to look where someone is pointing.  The next 2 books are a little more advanced, they are called The Group Plan, and Thinking Thoughts and Feeling Feelings.  These books tackle harder concepts but build off of the first 3 books.  Understanding where thoughts and feelings come from, and grasping what others may be feeling is tough.  Working together in a group even though the group plan may not be what you want to do is hard for most adults let alone young children.

The second series is also wonderful tackling even more social concepts building off of the first series.  You can check all of these resources out and many more at the social thinking website. You are going to be amazed at the wonderful resources that are available to you here.

The Canucks Autism network also has a free lending library for anyone who wants to read about social thinking or educate yourselves on Autism.

Michelle Garcia Winner is amazing at explaining Social Thinking skills.  I just found this interesting in this day and age where electronics play a huge role in everyone’s lives.  This is a quick video talking about the strain electronics is putting on our social skills.  When you are on social media you can multitask darting your eyes from different things and nobody cares.  When the switch happens to real people eye contact is hard.  Eye contact is essential to make connections and show that you care about the person your speaking with.  Families need to unplug and have time to communicate with each other to build these skills.  They need to learn to tolerate the good and the bad together.


Perspective taking

To understand perspective taking you really need to understand “theory of mind”.  This is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  To understand their mental state, this includes feelings, motives, desires and intensions.


Most children by school age understand this theory.  Some of our students of course will not.  For example, children on the autism spectrum have trouble understanding that everyone does not think what they thinking.  Just because they are thinking about cars and want to tell you everything about cars, doesn’t mean your interested in cars.  They wont ask you or notice your body gestures change to being frustrated or annoyed because you have been standing there for an hour listening to random facts about cars.  For these kids we need to explicitly teach this concept.

I found a book series called “Weird”by Erin Frankel .  There are 3 books and each book is from the perspective of one of the main characters.  It allows us the glimpse into all the characters minds to think about why they made decisions the way that they did.

“The Weird series encourages children that are being bullied to stand up for themselves . . . bystanders to act when they see something bad happening . . . [and] children who are bullying others to reassess their actions and motivations.” –“The Children’s Book Review”

I did a lesson using one of the books “Dare”, to teach perspective taking in a grade 4/5 class.  My goal was to help them look at the character Sam who plays the bully, and maybe have some empathy and understanding of why she might be a bully.  I read the story and then split them up into 6 groups, each group getting a different question about one of the three characters.  I was amazed at what the groups who had Sam came up with, the two questions were, “How could you help Sam to be a better friend?”, and “Why do you think Sam is a bully?”.  They said, that maybe Sam was lonely, maybe she was being bullied too (at home or outside of school), maybe she doesn’t know how to be a good friend, maybe she is nervous and uncomfortable, maybe she is shy, maybe we could model what a good friend looks like by being her friend… The other main goal was to have them understand that if your being bullied you need to change from being  a victim and learn to stand up for yourself.  They seemed to grasp both of my goals very well.  This was exactly what I was hoping for.  For the kids that could not answer these questions,  they now had an opportunity to learn from their peers, and then the last question everyone had to answer  was what did you learn from this lesson?.