What is Social Thinking?

The What, Why, Who and How of Social Thinking:
Social cognition or thinking is an intelligence like any other form of intelligence. (People have varying degrees of native social intelligence. It appears that as an individual matures they naturally and effortlessly develop their ability to think socially. Eventually, social intelligence allows us to have the skills to know how to act in different groups and form significant relationships with peers. The use of these skills rests on the understanding of ‘why’ (This is the cognitive or thinking piece.) we do and don’t do specific behaviors in a specific group or relationship. This understanding of the ‘why’ for behaviors has much to do with understanding other people’s beliefs, thoughts and perspectives.

At its most basic level, one must realize that other people may not be thinking exactly the same way you are, therefore they may have different feelings and resulting different behaviors, even though you may be sharing a similar experience.

Individuals born with less native social intelligence may have difficulty developing their social intelligence and skills by just being exposed to the social situations they are constantly immersed in. These individuals will need direct instruction and practice in the development of social thinking and related skills. This requirement for learning is similar to the needs of an individual who has difficulty with learning to read and write. Dyslexic learners will benefit from specialized direct instruction and practice in reading, writing and related skills. However, there is one very significant difference between these two different groups of learners. As difficult as dyslexia can be for an individual to overcome, it occurs primarily in the presence of words, whereas social thinking skills are required whenever an individual is sharing space (including cyberspace!) with another person. You don’t even have to be talking to someone and you still need to use your social thinking!

SOCIAL THINKING VS SOCIAL SKILLS


Social Thinking’ is a term pioneered by Michelle Garcia Winner, a California speech and language pathologist. Social thinking and social cognition are synonymous and differ from social skill learning. Social thinking involves the learning of the ‘why’ of social behaviors or skills. It is in the learning of the ‘why of social behaviors that an individual starts to think socially. Social skill (A specific skill can be thought of as a specific behavior.) instruction, absent of active social thinking may teach a specific behavior, such as looking at people when talking with them, but it does not teach that this looking behavior actually changes according to the setting and who is speaking. Social cognitive (thinking) behavioral therapy teaches both the social behavior and the reason behind the behavior. Teaching strategies utilize the strengths an individual might have in their logical and visual thinking to support the development of their social cognition and behaviors. Social cognitive behavioral teaching methods are best used with children who have average to above average intelligence.  Standardized communication testing is not yet refined enough to reveal the social cognitive difficulties of individuals who will often fall in the average or above average range on measurements of receptive and expressive language. Despite these good test scores, parents and teachers may still see the difficulty the individual is having interacting and learning. Michelle Garcia Winner developed a social cognitive model using the acronym ILAUGH.

Looking at the ILAUGH model components we can more clearly define these areas of difficulty:


I
nitiation of communication interactions
Listening with eyes and brain...”thinking with your eyes” not just looking
Abstract and Inferential information
Understanding Perspective
Gestalt thinking or getting the big picture
Humor nuances and subtleties



Usually, social thinking is not an intelligence that is directly taught. It is information that children learn by being immersed in the social environments of family, friends, school and community. Although adults caring for young children may instruct the child in ‘good manners’ and sharing with others, some children have difficulty acquiring even these basic skills. However, the vast majority of social thinking and skills are not directly taught. Children observe the social behaviors of others and gradually adopt these ‘expected’ behaviors as their own. Children with social learning disabilities do not learn the expected social behaviors by observing other people interact. They first need to be taught the specific reason for the behavior.

Pragmatics, Play and Perspective Taking

Pragmatics is the use of language (words and grammar) appropriate to a particular
social situation; for example, peer slang should not be used when talking to someone
like the school principal. However, socially appropriate communication includes not only
good pragmatics but also other behaviors many of which are non verbal, such as body
positioning, gesture, facial expression, eye gaze, intonation, stress and volume of voice.
One underpinning of appropriate social skills is the ability to make a good guess about
how others might be thinking about the situation. This is often referred to as
perspective taking and individuals with social learning difficulties are often significantly
challenged in this area.

Play skills, especially imaginary play skills can be useful in the development of
perspective taking abilities. For example, a child may have difficulty using a calm
sounding voice. In play acting a familiar fairy tale, the child pretends to be the giant at
the top of the bean stalk, stomping about and talking in an intimidating, loud voice. It is
easy to see how Jack reacts; he feels scared and runs away. The play acting is then
followed up with explicit mini-lessons on how tone of voice impacts a personʼs thoughts
about and behaviors toward an individual. Through play acting, this can be delivered in
a fun, non-judgmental, humorous manner. Lastly, childrenʼs play is incredibly fast
paced and complex and oh so much fun when you are included and at Social Thinking
and More, we have one golden rule- we all play with each other.

People with social thinking learning difficulties sometimes have challenges in other
areas of development including: organizational and executive functioning skills,
modulation of emotional reactions, sensory processing issues and mental health issues
such as anxiety and depression.

Typically, social thinking and social skills are best developed with a combination of
individual and group work. Groups consist of 2-4 students of similar skill. Pragmatics is the use of language (words and grammar) appropriate to a particular social situation; for example, peer slang should not be used when talking to someone like the school principal. However, socially appropriate communication includes not only good pragmatics but also other behaviors many of which are non verbal, such as body positioning, gesture, facial expression, eye gaze, intonation, stress and volume of voice. One underpinning of appropriate social skills is the ability to make a good guess about how others might be thinking about the situation. This is often referred to as perspective taking and individuals with social learning difficulties are often significantly challenged in this area.

Play skills, especially imaginary play skills can be useful in the development of
perspective taking abilities. For example, a child may have difficulty using a calm
sounding voice. In play acting a familiar fairy tale, the child pretends to be the giant at
the top of the bean stalk, stomping about and talking in an intimidating, loud voice. It is
easy to see how Jack reacts; he feels scared and runs away. The play acting is then
followed up with explicit mini-lessons on how tone of voice impacts a personʼs thoughts
about and behaviors toward an individual. Through play acting, this can be delivered in
a fun, non-judgmental, humorous manner. Lastly, childrenʼs play is incredibly fast
paced and complex and oh so much fun when you are included and at Social Thinking
and More, we have one golden rule- we all play with each other.

People with social thinking learning difficulties sometimes have challenges in other
areas of development including: organizational and executive functioning skills,
modulation of emotional reactions, sensory processing issues and mental health issues
such as anxiety and depression.

Typically, social thinking and social skills are best developed with a combination of
individual and group work. Groups consist of 2-4 students of similar skill.