Earlier this month, members of our team had the special privilege of attending a Social Thinking conference – two days of expert discussion into the thought provoking and multi-layered world of supporting individuals with social challenges.

The brain child of Speech and Language Therapist, Michelle Garcia Winner, the Social Thinking conference delved into tried and tested strategies we can use to encourage social learning, and ultimately, acceptable social interactions among our clients.

Here’s some of what we took away:

    • Social competency counts – we commonly believe that adult success can be attributed to measured intelligence. The reality is that social and emotional intelligence (otherwise known as EQ)/skills and tenacity are the true predictors of adult success. We learned of a 20-year retrospective study, funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2015), that found that children with higher competencies in skills like sharing, cooperating, and helping had better educational and professional outcomes. Lower social competency correlated with drop outs, drug abuse and a greater need for government assistance. This Social Thinking | IQ vs EQ | Asher-Solomon Centre for Developmentmade us feel pretty great about the work we do to support children with social difficulties!
    • Social Thinking is not a skills based approach and it is not just one tool or idea. It’s a methodology that aims to teach social learning. We are teaching students to observe and learn from the social world so that they can better interpret it and respond to it.
    • Social isn’t about memorising , it’s about adapting – we are all constantly regulating our behaviour to adapt to different situations and the behaviour of others. As such, social teaching needs to involve the specific situation and expectations of that situation to provide concrete social instruction.
    • The framework outlines four steps of perspective taking:
      • Acknowledging that each individual is having a thought about the other
      • Considering the other person’s intention
      • Thinking about what the other person might be thinking about you
      • Adapting your behaviour to encourage the person to think about you in a certain way.
        It’s about thinking about the process of perspective taking rather than rote learning the behaviour and then facing the possibility of not knowing how to behave in a different social situation.
    • The framework outlines four steps that are required for effective and socially appropriate face-to-face communication:
      • Thinking about others (recognising that they have thoughts, emotions, opinions and intentions that are different from my own)
      • Establishing a physical presence
      • Using our eyes to think about others
      • Using language to relate to others.
        When you begin to analyse your own social conduct, you quickly find that these four steps are deeply ingrained in your behaviour but as we know about people who have social challenges, they don’t emerge naturally through observation and need to be explicitly taught and practiced.
    • Much of teaching social behaviour is about helping individuals observe social behaviour, look for the hidden rules in social situation and provide these individuals with the language and concepts to comment on their observations. This language leads to meta-awareness. Useful Social Thinking language includes: “body in the group – brain in the group”, “listen with your eyes – think with your eyes”, “whole body listening”, “smart guesses about hidden rules”, “expected/unexpected behaviour”, “flexible thinking”.
    • We encourage our clients to use this language because language triggers thoughts.. and thoughts trigger behaviour!

      Social Thinking | Asher-Solomon Centre for Development

      Source: Social Thinking

    • Our eyes and ears assist us in finding out each other’s thoughts and they help us to communicate. The first step in encouraging this behaviour is to use our eyes to figure out what someone is looking at and therefore what they might be thinking about. Then, we can move on to using our eyes to show an interest in and connect with others.
    • Social situations have hidden rules that usually go unspoken. We can encourage our clients to become social detectives to figure out these rules… because social thinking is about exposing the social code and the myriad of subtitles that exist within it!


If you think Social Thinking strategies could benefit your child or someone close to you, contact a speech and language therapist or occupational therapist.