FatherSon Ventures

Building a Relationship through Adventure

Social Thinking

Written By: Scot Butwell - Feb• 15•15

thought bubbleI am learning about social thinking. You know those thought bubbles in cartoons? The ones showing what a character is thinking. Spiderman exclaiming he’s been bitten by a radioactive spider, and he now has super human powers to scale the side of buildings.

The idea behind the comic strip thought bubbles are part of Michelle Weiner Garcia’s work in teaching “social thinking” to persons with social communication deficits, what she calls “social-cognitive disorders.” This is her theory on social thinking:

Social thinking is what we do when we interact with other people: we think about them. And how we think about them 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 the intentions of the people we are interacting with.

Most of us have developed our communication sense from birth and onward, steadily observing and acquiring social information and learning how to respond to people.  Because social thinking is an intuitive process, we usually most often take it for granted.

But for many individuals, this process is anything but natural.  And this 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.

b cluubI became aware Weiner Garcia’s “social thinking” theory through the Buddy Club, a social skills group D recently joined at Pediatric Therapy Network where he has been receiving occupational therapy since age three.

The Buddy Club leader introduced the concept of social thinking to the kids at their last meeting by demonstrating how she often has different thoughts about each one of the kids in the group.

“I’m having a positive thought right now about _______,” she said. “I like the way he is sitting still and listening to me with his eyes on me.”

The teacher in me thought this was just a behavioral management technique. A strategy to get everyone to be quiet and to pay attention to the directions for an activity.

However, I learned in the parent meeting at the end of Buddy Club that she was modeling social thinking: that we all have thoughts about the people we interact with and she was having a positive thought about one child.

Social thinking is, basically, the ability to think about one’s own thoughts (meta-cognition) as well as to consider what others may be thinking in a social situation (perspective taking).

And it’s what many experts say kids on the spectrum have difficulty with (theory of mind): the ability to understand that other people have different thoughts, feelings, and perspectives from their own.

The Buddy Club played a game where each kid took turns having a “thought” about an object in the room, and the rest of the group had to ask questions to the person to try and guess the object.

I thought it was a good way to bridge D’s understanding in how it’s helpful to think about what others are thinking in social situations to be able to carry on a conversation.

For example: if I know someone likes basketball or football, I can talk to them about these sports; or if I now it is Halloween tomorrow, I can ask someone what their costume will be.

The next day, the wife and I, without talking to each other, each used the concept of thought bubbles with our D, so we both felt it is a good communication tool.

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