Social thinking is what we do when we interact with people: we think about them and how we think about people affects how we behave, which in turn affects how others respond to us, which in turn affects our own emotions. Whether we are with friends, sending an email, in a classroom or at the grocery store, we take in the thoughts, emotions and intentions of the people we are interacting with.
Most of us have developed our communication sense from birth onwards, steadily observing and acquiring social information and learning how to respond to people. Because social thinking is an intuitive process, we usually take it for granted.
But for many individuals, this process is anything but natural. And this often has nothing to do with conventional measures of intelligence. In fact, many people score high on IQ and standardized tests, yet do not intuitively learn the nuances of social communication and interaction.
These challenges are commonly experienced by individuals with a variety of diagnosed challenges. Autism spectrum disorders, social communication disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, nonverbal learning disability (NLD) and similar diagnoses may all cause a student to experience a deficit in the area of social thinking.
But there is hope! The good news is that, like other subjects that are taught in school, social thinking can be systematically taught. In the Imago Dei School, we employ the treatment framework and curriculum developed by Michelle Garcia Winner, which targets improving individual social thinking abilities, regardless of diagnostic label. Imago Dei teachers use these methods to build social thinking and related skills in our students.
Imago Dei teachers and aides utilize social thinking books and attend workshops and trainings created by Michelle Garcia Winner. These resources provide a range of strategies that address individual strengths and weaknesses in processing social information.
An example of teaching “social thinking and related skills” can be explored through how we teach the concept of eye contact. We talk to students about “thinking with their eyes” rather than use the words “eye contact.” We encourage them to be detectives who have to learn to observe the people and context within which they are communicating to help them make better educated guesses about the nature of the communicative exchange. This is a much deeper approach than simply asking someone to “look at me.” This example of a social thinking approach provides a depth of information that helps students generalize the related skills with more consistency according to reports from educators and parents.
Social thinking is an integral part of the Imago Dei core curriculum throughout all grades.