Last month, I attended a workshop held by Michelle Garcia Winner, the founder of Social Thinking. To say I was excited is an understatement. Social Thinking is my preferred approach when working with children who have multiple speech and language needs. As Michelle emphasized, Social Thinking goes far beyond just teaching “social skills”. She explained that it involves applying language and cognition (thinking) to social skills and solving social problems.
Interestingly, the longest research study ever conducted on happiness, found that people who have strong and lasting social relationships are generally the happiest. Social Thinking is so important for forming and maintaining these social relationships with others.
Why is Social Thinking so important?
There have been many times during my speech therapy sessions when I think to myself, “I really wish this child knew how to tell me (and others) that they did not understand what was just said to them” or “if only they knew what to do when someone does not understand what they have said”. At that point, I will usually stop the activity we are working on and we will practice these skills instead. Skills like these are often over-looked because most children learn them naturally. However, some children do not and need to be taught these skills in a structured setting such as therapy. Communicating that they have not understood what was said to them and knowing what to do when others have not understood them are just two examples of the endless skills which the Social Thinking approach promotes.
What does Social Thinking involve?
In my opinion, Social Thinking forms a bridge between Speech Therapy (as language is needed to communicate) and Psychology (as communicating with others involves attention, thinking and perspective taking).
Social Thinking is quite complex and it involves many skills including:
• Expressive Language (using language) and Receptive Language (understanding language)
• Social skills
• Problem solving
• Short-term memory
• Meta-cognition (thinking about thinking)
Will my child benefit from the Social Thinking approach?
This approach is mostly suitable for children with moderate-to-high level of language and thinking skills. Your child can benefit from this approach if they have social learning difficulties or need support in their social communication skills. This approach often teaches the ‘hidden curriculum’ as Brenda Myles writes about in her book, which some children do not learn naturally. I have personally seen many children who have Autism, Down Syndrome, social learning difficulties in elementary, middle-school and high-school make fantastic gains from using this approach.
What will my child learn through this approach?
Your child will learn skills in the social communication areas where they require support. To determine these areas, a Speech Therapist will gather information from you and possibly your child’s teachers. The therapist will then assess or observe your child’s social communication skills to identify areas of need.
Based on the findings from the assessment, a plan will be put together outlining the social communication areas where your child needs support.
During therapy, your child might then work on skills such as perspective taking, where they learn that two people can look at the same thing and have different thoughts about it. Your child might work on “whole-body listening” where they are taught to pay attention with their bodies. This is such an important skill for social interactions as well as for learning in classrooms. Another skill your child might work on is thinking about others and how to start conversations based on their interests. They might then learn how to maintain these conversations.
Social Thinking is a great approach for working with children with social learning difficulties. I hope to see more of this approach being applied in Bangkok within the coming years, to equip children with such important life-skills.
The Expat Speechie
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