Reviews: Social Thinking ®
Michelle Garcia Winner is a Congressional-award-winning speech language pathologist (SLP) who began a practice more than 20 years ago. When working with children, she realized more and more of them were having trouble relating to others. She explored the non-verbal processing and related communication issues and designed a program to help children and therapists. She now has authored more than 20 books and speaks all over the world.
Her program, Social Thinking®, is based on a few simple steps that demonstrate to kids that their actions not only affect others, but affect how people treat them based upon those actions. A majority of children on the ASD spectrum are self-centered, as they cannot read other people’s responses, so they care little about how their actions feel to those around them. This program shows them that they should care, because it is going to affect them too. This foundation is brilliant and there are a few offshoots that are also brilliant.
Thinking About You, Thinking About Me (2003) by Michelle Garcia Winner is an excellent book that describes the process steps for handling social situations with handouts and activities to use with children. We used this book when my son was little and it helped him realize that their was a social world that he needed to navigate. It also gave him the idea of what it entailed.
Social Detective: You are a Social Detective (2009) is a cute book written by Pamela Cooke and Michelle Garcia Winner for 5 – 10 year olds that shows kids how to look for clues in their social world. We got this book, but by then my son was far enough along that he did not need it. My daughter liked the pictures and thought being a detective was fun. We read it for enjoyment.
Super Flex: Super Flex (2008) is a cartoon super hero story line developed by Stephanie Madrigal with Michelle Garcia Winner for 7– 10 year olds to demonstrate the different ways people act in the world when they are not thinking about how their actions affect others. Obviously, this is near and dear to my heart as the Men in the Head® characters live in a pretend world and help us with our brain-body connections.
The conference I attended a few weeks ago does not get a good review. Michelle is a really good speaker. She is vastly knowledgeable, engaging and humorous in her delivery. She is passionate about her work and accessible to everyone in the audience. She makes herself available to answer questions and helps people during the breaks.
However, the presentation itself was scattered and shallow. Perhaps she was trying to cover too much material in too little time. Perhaps she is not a good presentation developer. I’m not sure, but the materials were poorly laid out and the story line was disjointed. I left ½ way through the first day of a two-day conference. I did not want my view of the conference to mar my perception of her work.
Also, I will say that there are too many apparently different approaches without any cohesion between them. The social detective should dovetail with Superflex and the Unthinkables as well as the Flexible You for pre-schoolers. They tie loosely together from a product perspective, but when presented during the conference, the cohesion was not articulated. I was spending my time trying to figure out who should be using what for which purpose and also following how all of this tied with the Core Curriculum standards as it was being poorly presented to the audience.
My advice, if you have an SLP working with your child and he or she wants to introduce the Social Thinking® program, say “Yes” with reservations. Ask how he or she will be using it, how you can gain the language necessary to follow-up at home, and make sure that they start with the foundation, Thinking About You, Thinking About Me. They need to start with this foundation and not just jump into the fun books of being a social detective or SuperFlex. The children need to understand how the social interaction process works BEFORE they get involved with the different characters within different worlds. Also, if your child does not understand the pretend world, he or she should not use the Superflex program.
Michelle spent time informing the audience that the foundation is the critical first step and that the children on the ASD spectrum need to be level 1 or 2 only.
Men in the Head® & Social Thinking®
The Social Thinking® program tools roll right into the Men in the Head® approach and relate most directly to Gerald, our self-regulation guy, Samantha, our feelings girl, and Thomas, our judgment boy. Our children need to be able to navigate their social worlds and while Men in the Head ® will explain why and what is going on, my intention is not duplicate an existing program that describes how to effectively do so.
All in all, the work is very good. There just needs to be knowledge of the tools and management of their uses to gain the best possible results.