Social Thinking and Differently Wired Kids, with Michelle Garcia Winner

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What exactly does “social thinking” mean? This episodes features a conversation with speech language pathologist and specialist working with kids who have social learning challenges, Michelle Garcia Winner. Michelle is the founder and CEO of Social Thinking®, a company dedicated to helping people develop their social competencies to meet their personal social goals. She coined the term “Social Thinking” in the mid-1990s and since that time has created numerous unique treatment frameworks and curricula that help educators, clinicians, and professionals.In this episode, we talk about the concept of social thinking—what it is and why it matters for our kids, how it can be taught and learned, how we as parents can nurture social thinking in our kids, and much more.


About Michelle Garcia Winner

Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP specializes in the treatment of individuals with social learning challenges and is the founder and CEO of Social Thinking®, a company dedicated to helping individuals from four through adulthood develop their social competencies to meet their personal social goals. Michelle maintains a private practice, The Center for Social Thinking, in Santa Clara, California, where she works with clients who continue to teach and inspire her. She travels globally presenting courses on the Social Thinking Methodology, an evidence-based approach she created that she continues to evolve and expand on. Michelle helps to develop educational programs, consults with and trains families and schools, and is a guiding presence with a wide range of professionals, politicians, and businesses on the topic of social emotional competencies. She is a prolific writer and has written and/or co-authored more than 40 books and over 100 articles about the Social Thinking Methodology. 


Things you’ll learn from this episode

  • Michelle’s story for getting into the work of supporting kids and becoming a speech language pathologist
  • What “social thinking” is, including an explanation of the different types of social thinking (gifted, learned social information, social cognition, etc.)
  • What “theory of mind,” perspective taking,” and social cognition are in a social thinking context
  • Why it’s so important that kids learn social thinking
  • About the relationship between social thinking and emotional regulation
  • Whether or not social skills groups actually work
  • What kinds of kids struggle most in developing their social thinking skills
  • The difference between social learning problems and negative behavior


Resources mentioned about social thinking


Episode Transcript

Michelle Garcia Winner  00:00

I’m very much engaged in treating the person and trying to figure out their social learning system to be able to figure out how to teach them rather than saying, Oh, you have a social problem now we’re going to do an algorithm of a you know, now we’re going to teach you to say hi, and then we’re going to teach you to ask for one thing or other you know, look like let’s really understand who this kid is.

Debbie Reber  00:25

Welcome to the Tilt Parenting podcast, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host, Debbie Reber and today’s episode features a conversation with a speech language pathologist and specialist working with kids who have social learning challenges Michelle Garcia Winner. Michelle is the founder and CEO of Social Thinking, a company dedicated to helping people develop their social competencies to meet their personal social goals. She coined the term “social thinking” in the mid 1990s. And since that time, has created numerous unique treatment frameworks and curricula that help educators, clinicians and professionals. I first heard of Michelle, when a therapist we were working with suggested using her super flex curriculum. At the time we were dealing with the highly inflexible five year old boy and I was like, Yes, please give me some of that. And since then, I’ve used many of Michelle’s resources to work on social thinking with Asher. So I was thrilled to have the chance to talk to the woman behind it all. In our conversation. We talked about the concept of social thinking, what it is, why it matters for our kids, how it can be taught and learned and much more. This was a fascinating conversation that’s really relevant to all parents, but especially parents with differently wired kids. I hope you enjoy it. And before we get to our chat, a quick reminder to grab the new parenting SOS cheat sheet I put together until parenting. I went through all 50 of my podcast episodes from 2017 and I pulled the 10 most powerful parenting strategies I learned from them and created a downloadable PDF with those strategies that you can print out and stick on your fridge. The mini poster features advice from Dr. Ross Greene, author Jessica Lahey, executive function and coach, Seth perler, and more. And it’s designed to offer you kind of quick helpful strategies. I also created six beautifully designed wallpaper quotes from these strategies for your cell phone so you can grab some inspiration on the go anytime you turn on your phone. To download those and the cheat sheet go to tilde parenting comm slash cheat sheet. Lastly, I’ve heard from many people that they want access to the podcast but because they either have auditory processing challenges or hearing impairments, listening isn’t an option for them. So I’m throwing the challenge out there to the community for the month of February to try to bring in enough money through my Patreon campaign to cover the cost of creating these transcripts. And not only for episodes moving forward, but I want to go back and catch up with all 90 plus episodes that have gone before this. If you want to help me reach this goal, you can visit slash till parenting to get the details. It’s Patreon is, it’s really easy to sign up, you can make as small a contribution as $2 a month, and that will make a big difference. And on that note, I wanted to give a shout out to Anna Berkman to Robin cadet and Lydia Meyer for being new supporters of the podcast. Thank you so much for helping to fund this show. And if you want to join them again, it’s slash co parenting, you can also find the link on the tiller parenting website. Okay, that’s enough announcements for this episode. Now without further ado, here’s my conversation with Michelle, I hope you enjoy it. 

Debbie Reber  04:05

Hi, Michelle, welcome to the podcast. 

Michelle Garcia Winner  04:08

Thanks, Debbie. Glad to be here. 

Debbie Reber  04:10

I’m really looking forward to this conversation. You know, of course, personally, because I’m a big fan of your work. But I’m so excited to share your company’s social thinking and all the incredible resources with our community because I think they’re so relevant to what the kids that we’re raising are going through. So before we get into social thinking and what you do, would you just take a minute to introduce yourself and tell us kind of who you are and what your background is.

Michelle Garcia Winner  04:39

So my name is Michelle Garcia Winner. I’m the founder of Social Thinking. And I’m trained. I have a master’s in speech language pathology. And I got into that field because I was interested in autism. They taught a class in 1979 at my university and so I started working with classically autistic those with weaker measured learning abilities and very weak to nonverbal, unable to produce language or weak language systems. And so I specialized in that for many years and then ended up working with people in hospitals with head injuries and learning about higher order thinking and executive functioning. And I ended up then in the mid 90s, getting involved in Asperger syndrome, when it first became known through our diagnostic manuals. And that’s where I found a need to create social thinking, because I felt we needed a very different treatment approach for teaching about the social world through folks with solid to high level language and learning skills.

Debbie Reber  05:39

Wow. So 1979, you’re a pioneer? In many ways, you know, the conversation around autism must have been so different from what it is today,

Michelle Garcia Winner  05:49

Oh, it is very different. There was no autism spectrum. And we were at that time de institutionalizing adolescents whose mothers had been told they’d caused autism. And at that time, there were just treatments being founded, such as the teach model structured teach, which I participated in a model that really incorporated a lot of excellent structured teach information, as well as humanistic behaviorism, where we really saw behavior as communication. And we’re really encouraging functional communication systems to help minimize behavioral challenges. And so that’s all that’s what we focused on. And we only talked about autism and autism was as common as Downs syndrome. And it was hard to get people’s attention to autism. And so to watch it dawn into a spectrum disorder that now is front page news is really remarkable to see those shifts happen. Wow.

Debbie Reber  06:47

Yeah. And you created Social Thinking, before that was happening. It’s such a great resource. And I’m sure so many families are grateful to stumble upon you when they realize that their This is something that they’ll be working on in their own families.

Michelle Garcia Winner  07:03

Yeah, I think now, even with the, you know, now added to all of this, just typically developing folks who are spending a lot of time on digital devices and not getting much exposure or opportunity for social engagement in the same intensity as pre digital ages. Now, we’re just facing more and more demands. How do you expose folks to social information and who have now anxiety or aren’t sure what to do? Because I haven’t practiced it enough.

Debbie Reber  07:31

So fascinating. Well, so I remember when Asher was working with a therapist at the University of Washington Autism Center, he was probably eight at the time. And his therapist mentioned, I think the first thing she said was Superflex, you have to know the Superflex curriculum. And, she mentioned your name. And she talked about social thinking. And for me, I was like social thinking …yes. Superflex? Yes, tell me more. You know, I knew that it was something that I wanted to learn more about. And I had a suspicion that it was going to offer so many tools for me as a parent, parenting a chronically inflexible human being at the time, and someone who struggled with his social skills, I was so excited to discover the work that you’re doing. So before we get into some of the details, what is social thinking? Can you describe that as a concept for us?

Michelle Garcia Winner  08:29

Well, we start with multiple intelligences, some people are really good at science and others, music, math, or overlapping intelligences. I think, at this point, most people would acknowledge our brain has many different types of capacity for learning. And so with Social Thinking, it was really a recognition that I’m working with a number of folks who have really solid measured learning abilities and many ways, most of them borderline, the solid, and then many, many gifted folks and then solid, a strong language skills, but their brain doesn’t make it easy for them to learn social information. So if you want to read about that, then you go into learning about social cognition, and teaching social skills. And what I found was remarkable. And now, you know, 2022 years after I began to evolve all of this, I can, I can explain it more easily now. But there is not a single field out there, whether it’s in mental health or education or the therapies ot speech behaviorism that really studies the development of social cognition, and forms treatments around social cognition specifically, most communities around the world take it for granted how that people learn social and because it’s so easy for most people, we don’t think it can be that hard to teach. So I was kind of dumbstruck when I was working with these high school kids in the middle of the 90s. And they started to come in with the diagnosis of Asperger’s or I just saw kids with social issues as to how to help them in a way that they would receive the help. So social thinking began with me trying to create social cognitive teachings, but talking about them in a way that my students could understand. So I decided to use a really user-friendly language. And so in a nutshell, social thinking is about teaching how our brain processes and responds to socially based information, whether it’s social cognitive information, such as theory of mind, or, you know, emotion based information and those two weave together.

Debbie Reber  10:36

So, okay, I’d love to hear a little bit more about this idea of theory of mind. And, you know, I know perspective taking and what are kind of the key areas, and there’s probably way too many to talk about. But are there a couple of main areas that differently wired kids in particular tend to lag in their skills with?

Michelle Garcia Winner  10:57

Well, one of the things I noticed, and you know, this may resonate with a lot of parents out there is once families or systems acknowledge that a kid is weak in their social abilities, we tend to describe that as having weak social skills. And then we tend to put them in social skills groups. And what was striking me in the 90s was how problematic these groups were because we were putting everybody with social problems in the exact same group. But even though the kids may be around the same age, they clearly did not have the same social problems. So your question, while it seems simple, is not so simple in the sense that one of the things I’ve done over the many years with the help of colleagues such as Dr. Pam Crooke and Stephanie Madrigal is develop a scale of the social mind to understand different levels of social learning abilities in much the same way we assess kids reading and math abilities to figure out where do they fit in the learning cycle. And so when you ask about theory of mind, we have some of our students I work with who have have evolved into having solid language skills, even though they might have started with ecoli look, more ecolog behavior, they have very weak ability to think outside of their own mind to understand other people have thoughts different from their so and so those kinds of students, we’re going to begin at a very, very basic level, and you’re going to tend to see that those guys also are very literal, and how they interpret information. And they tend to have very poor self awareness. Now I’m talking about kids who were like 6, 7, 8, 9 and beyond, I’m not talking about 2, 3, 4 year olds, because that’s the formation of self we don’t necessarily have. We don’t measure self awareness so easily at that age, although it’s obviously obvious to you know, look for it. And then there’s other groups of kids I work with who do understand very quickly, I know your thoughts are different from mine, I just don’t know what to do with them. And how do I account for them. So I realize you have thoughts that are different from mine, some of my students, depending on their personality, and developmental age will realize other people have thoughts different from theirs, they just think people are idiots for having thoughts that are different from their, so they tend to be very argumentative or dismissive, or perceived at times as arrogant. So long story short, we have five different levels of the mind from neurotypical to the most limited, and that there’s different types of treatment, because it’s not theory of mind is the building blocks of perspective taking, and social cognition. So you have to figure out what challenge the kid has, I’m totally opposed to blanket treatments that are, you know, because you have a diagnosis, that means you get this treatment, because it’s just not that easy. And I saw that all the way back in the years of my work. And then it’s, you know, who decides who’s got autism spectrum disorders versus ADHD versus gifted versus mood disorders. I mean, it’s really complicated in the sense that I think we have more diagnostic labels and the brain has problems for and I’m very much engaged in treating the person and trying to figure out their social learning system, to be able to figure out how to teach them, rather than saying, Oh, you have a social problem. Now we’re going to do an algorithm of a, you know, now we’re going to teach you to say hi, and then we’re going to teach you to ask for one thing or other, you know, look like let’s really understand who this kid is. But I think it’s really important because as kids age up, we have some kids who have social learning, and I call it a social learning problem rather than a social skills problem. Because I think if we just describe it as social skills, people just want their behaviors to change. They just want them to look more social, but you and I don’t just look social. We engage in a social information processing system. In our minds. We think socially, we think about ourselves, we think about others, we understand our feelings. We’re trying to understand others and it’s a really remarkable process. And if you have social self awareness, if you’re aware that people have thoughts about you, which not all of my students do, then they likely my students who have awareness that other people have thoughts about them, and they have thoughts about the others, they’re going to get upset if you put them in a group with kids of a similar age, or people of similar age who don’t have their same level of functioning. I’ve had students say to me, I could teach that kid social skills, I don’t want to be in the same group with them. One of the really tricky things about social is that social involves our emotional system. It involves how we think and feel about ourselves and involves how we think and feel about others. So when it comes embedded in our mental health systems, it becomes embedded in our learning system. If you don’t know how to understand people have thoughts, or you don’t know how to perceive those thoughts or consider those thoughts? Well, you’re going to have reading comprehension of literature problems, that the social mind is not just used for producing social behaviors it’s producing it’s meaning in our world. And when we’re walking down a hall, who do you say hi to and how do you know who to avoid? How do you know when you’ve been bumped versus how you if you’ve been bullied, and that’s one of my missions in social thinking is to get to help people see that this really this, this learning system really deserves a lot of time and respect, rather than people thinking, Oh, we can just teach that during lunch bunch, because it’s not seriously academic. And it’s like, wait, if you work with really literal students who are not aware that other people in the class exist, you’re going to see that they don’t have the reasoning and critical thinking skills to make sense of a lot of their curriculum that directly relates to curriculum problems.

Debbie Reber  16:46

So just hear you say, all that I’m getting filled with such a sense of urgency and excitement. I think this is such fascinating content. And I have a lot of questions for you that came up in what you just said. One, just a quick question. You know, you talked about that this really taps into how these kids feel about themselves. Do you see that become more of an issue as they are in middle school in high schools, you know, when social currency is a little more heightened.

Michelle Garcia Winner  17:17

Absolutely. You know, I’m, you know, trained as a speech pathologist, and then self trained as a social cognitive specialist. This is all very developmental, how we perceive others and read others intentions, becomes more sophisticated with age and then our own figuring out ourselves, who am I? How am I different from my family? There’s all these different developmental ages across and you’ll start to see kids become increasingly reluctant or aware of them, their social selves, as they’re aging up into adolescence. Certainly, the middle school years are super tough. I was working with a 13 year old girl who has been school phobic, and she’s really afraid of growing up. And I was telling her, you know, I don’t know a single mature adult who ever wants to repeat being 13. Again, like, it’s really a horrible age. And of course, it’s not a horrible age, but it’s a complicated age. Yeah. And you will see that across our lives, you know, it’s I, I really specialize in adolescents, young adults and mature adults, and I’m working with a number of Silicon Valley I live in, in San Jose, California. So I work with a number of folks who work in industries that you’re all familiar with, and they’re employed as engineers, or doctors or lawyers, and just the challenges across our different ages and how we’re perceived, how we perceive others, and then emotionally process all that information. Here’s some good news for parents. There’s never a stopping point to learn. Yeah, and I think I think parents at times get like, Oh, he’s got to have this figured out before he goes to college, or before he graduates from school, he’s got to have it figured out. And every one of our kids, if we focus on learning systems, we’re going to just keep helping them get better and learn more about the social world than they had before. So our what is a successful program is one where we help a child get better compared to himself. They’re learning more about their own Thought and Feeling systems are learning more about others are having strategies to cope with some anxieties. They’re able to figure out some strategies for relating to people that’s comfortable to them where they can feel like they’re not giving up on themselves in order to be in a relationship or to participate in class. And that’s, that progresses every year, you get a little bit better compared to yourself.

Debbie Reber  19:44

It’s so true. I love that. And, you know, I’m just thinking with the younger kids too. I imagine that you see some resistance sometimes or you know, maybe kids who actually think they’re quite good with social things. So when you say you Want to work on these areas, they don’t actually see it as a problem. But I imagine as they get older and they start recognizing, oh, this is actually getting in my way, then they’re more motivated to work on those things.

Michelle Garcia Winner  20:11

Well, developmentally younger children usually may not understand why they need it, but they’re used to adults telling them, they have to do what the adult thinks they need to do. So in that way, if we can find some treatment that’s motivational for the students to help them in their learning, usually, we can get younger kids to engage even if they’re not sure why they need to engage. Because that brings up a whole nother issue of the relationship between peers and adults. And a lot of these kids have very adult-like relationships, have good relationships with adults, or better relationships, not all. But as, as you age up. If you’re seeing that you’re struggling, you may not see it in the teenage or middle school in teenage years, you may not see that your struggles may be translated by yourself, the child that everybody else is wrong. Because you’re not at a place where you can really own that there’s something you’re doing that’s problematic, or just not sophisticated, or you’re not understanding. And so we have to manage through those developmental ages on motivational strategies to get them learning about this learning system without blaming and shaming, which I do think a lot of times we do in social teaching, especially for the more gifted kids or the ones who have a lot of language as people think, though they know better, they’re just choosing to do this. And so it’s not until often with many of my students in their upper high school years into the 20s, depending on the kids where kids, and my adults are really coming back, taking ownership and saying, alright, I know that this is my problem. And this is my problem, because and so I want to work on this because part of the goal of treatment is to help kids get to that point where they can see that without feeling shamed or blamed, to be able to work on it as a learning system rather than just do these behaviors. But again, it’s about developmental age, it’s about awareness of the individual. It’s about the level of anxiety and depression they’re managing. I think that’s part of my point in saying this stuff is not to overwhelm people. But to realize there’s more going on, than I think people are aware. And we often compartmentalize it like, oh, let’s go to the mental health person for the mental health. And let’s go to the speech pathologists for articulation and language and let’s go to the behaviorist if you need to learn sub skills. And it’s like, wait, we need to be way more holistic, because all these systems function as one inside of ourselves socially, they don’t function in compartments.

Debbie Reber  22:43

Absolutely, that makes so much sense. So I want to go back to something you talked about earlier. So we talked about social skills groups. And you know, that’s something I had Asher in a year long social skills group in Seattle, because that was recommended to us. I wouldn’t say it was hugely successful, though. He did learn how to compliment another child, you know how to compliment someone else, which was new for him, just to notice what other people were doing. But, you know, you talked about, we don’t want to put all these kids in one bucket. And they all are at different levels and working on different things. So what is actually the diagnostic process for you? What does that look like? If you’re working with somebody new? How do you figure out what they need to work on?

Michelle Garcia Winner  23:31

So this is why you mentioned that I have a lot of different materials out there on my website, . We do have a lot of free articles, as well as products we’ve developed. But in short, I’m not we’re not diagnostic in this in the traditional sense of you come to us to get a diagnosis to figure out if you have a social challenge and what that diagnosis would be in the DSM 5 or whatever system you’re using. But instead, what we’re working on is the majority of our clients have already known social problems when they come to our clinic. And then we try to figure out what level of social emotional need they have. So I have this article on our website for free, called the social communication profile. And if you put it in your search bar, you should be able to pull it up on your social communication profile. And that’s like a 32 page article where we explain different levels of the social mind. I have it probably written it up a little bit cleaner way in a book called why teach social thinking, which connects a lot of what I was telling you earlier, the academic to the social learning, and talks about why we use different types of treatments for different types of learners, that when kids come to me I look at social attentions. That’s one of the first things I look at is how attentive they are to the social world around them. So if some of our students are just very spacey, they’re very attentive to what makes sense in their mind. Or the objects in the room, but they’re not necessarily attentive to people. So that’s one of the first things we look at. Because social attention starts with what they call joint attention, the ability to look at someone’s face, see what they’re looking at, make a guess about what they’re thinking about, we expect children to be able to have a pretty strong formation of that concept by six months old. And to have a very strong understanding of this concept. Traditional learners by 12 months old, where not only are they paying attention to see what someone’s looking at his past and thinking about, but now they’re reading intention, and trying to figure out what people’s plans are. And by 13 to 15 months old kids are involved in what they call weak collaboration, where now they’re working together in little mini teams with the child and the adult to try to do some things together. If the mom has a problem with something like she dropped the broom in the kitchen, that kid may come over and pick it up and give it to her. And so what we’re looking at when we’re working with kids is how much is this kid processing of his social world? The 360 degree social world, which I call the landscape of social, like people around when people come in exit the room are the activities that we play. And then from there, how does this kid communicate? how effectively are they processing information, we have a series of tasks I’ve created that are informal, we call them social things, and formal dynamic assessment tasks, to just try to figure out what’s happening spontaneously? How is this kid processing and responding? How much time does it take for them to figure some stuff out socially. And it’s remarkable that standardized tests Not a single test out there that I’ve ever learned about in any field around the world, as I travel globally, actually measures tests with a standardized testing tool, how a person processes and responds to social information in time, like how quickly they do it. But the social world all exists is the face to face social contact exists in time, it’s millisecond timing. And so if I have a student in my room, I’m not going to just put a standardized test in front of them that ask them questions like, what does this idiom mean? And then you can take as long as you need to answer it, I were going to put some tests there and really start looking at how many cues do you need? How quickly can you get through this? Is it seamless? Is it labored? And that helps us start to look at some of these factors.

Debbie Reber  27:33

Wow. Oh, gosh, it’s also fascinating to me. And just quick for listeners, I’ll make sure that all the links to the resources, Michelle’s talking about including the social communication profile, that those are all in the show notes pages. So just check those out. And you can explore everything on Michelle’s site.

Michelle Garcia Winner  27:54

As you’re, as you’re pausing. Let me just mention that another article for your audience to look at is called the cascade of social attention. When we explain, as we’re processing information, what’s the journey, you know, our brain figures out the situation, the people, then it starts interpreting what’s going on. And then we have social self awareness, who am I, with you? And then for them, as we interpret all this information with you, then I figure out what I’m supposed to do socially. And in the cascade of social attention. We also define different types of anxiety that may show up based on how people are interpreting information. So that’s another article I think, for parents, a lot of parents will say, okay, so teachers need this, but what do I need? And I’m like, well, you’re actually with this child for life. And if you can start to understand how they perceive social information and make sense of it, it will make more sense to parents as to how to help teach, because parents, our teachers have social emotional information. Yeah, constantly.

Debbie Reber  28:54

I mean, we have opportunities all the time, you know, in almost every moment of every day that we could be exploring social thinking. So I wanted to ask you, you know, a few years ago, Asher was going to summer camp, sleepaway camp for the first time, and he had some concerns about it, and what that was going to be like, and being with a group and having to do collaboration and a lot of different things. And we worked on social thinking together, I ordered some books from your website and use those as I could, you know, kind of picked and choose things that felt to me to be most relevant for him at the time, but social thinking your website, it’s incredible, comprehensive, but there’s so much on there. So for listeners who are really curious and want to learn more, and want to go to your website, and these are parents, you know, where do you recommend that they start? How do they navigate where they should direct their attention in light of everything that you offer?

Michelle Garcia Winner  29:56

So let me build a bridge between the kind of conceptual information I’ve been talking about: how does the brain learn and process and respond to social information to teaching. So through all this, as I was seeing the complexities and learning about social, I started creating teaching for my students using what we call social thinking vocabulary, I started using very common sense language. What I found was, people tend to teach and I think this is usually what happens in the world out there. People use words like cooperate, negotiate, they’ll respect Be polite. And those are all really abstract words, I had students who were yelling, you’re not cooperating when they themselves were the ones who were not cooperating. So they heard the word, but they didn’t really understand the nuances of the word. So there was many experiences like that that led me to create language like: is your body in the group is your brain and the group think with your eyes will read the group plan and just understanding how to break down the social world so our students could see it? So as parents come on the website, really, first of all, I think parents in many ways are more knowledgeable than a lot of professionals, because not a single professional is really taught this stuff. And we expect the speech language pathologist or educator behaviorist, whoever it is mental health counselor, to be your rock to be your guide in this. And no one has taught this type of social learning information in their curriculum, speech pathologists, at least it’s told us that there’s a field called social pragmatics, but most of us learn very, very little about it. And so what I found was that parents were really reading way more than professionals. So, you know, often I get the question about, well, what, how can we help parents because they’re not professionals. And I’m like, Well, to be honest, parents are learning more than the professionals are. And so I really encourage parents to read some things on our website, like the I laugh model of social cognition, just that breaks it down into initiation and listening and abstracting and perspective and getting the big picture and to just have some understanding of what the social world is about. I know everybody wants kids to just behave, be nice, be friendly, be charming to other people, like I get to see you at your best, you know, at home at times. So I’m not going to say parents should just run to treatment strategies, because I think anyone who runs to treatment strategies, if you don’t know what you’re treating, we’re all gonna mess it up. And we’re going to end up going if you’re not doing it, you should be doing it this way. But on our website, we also have sections about different developmental ages. Because this is a developmental process. If you end up in our product section, you’ll see some where to start information for younger kids versus apparel, like the 910 11 year olds up into the tween and teenage years. So find, if you’re interested in particular products, you will find that we have different developmental age products for teaching. So I think one of the better, more comprehensive books that parents could read and students can use, I wrote with Linda Murphy, she’s another speech pathologist out there who started collaborating with me some years ago. And it’s called social thinking and me and it’s a kid’s guide book, and some handouts and a book of related lessons, little mini lesson plans. But I recommend it to parents and professionals if you want to jump into social thinking and just get a sense of how we explain the social world to kids, that social thinking and meet kids guidebook, and then the related lesson plan gives you ideas about how you can break it down and ask questions. We wrote that for like nine to 12 year olds, roughly that age group. But I’m often saying hey, that’s a great place now that now that it’s out it came out this past year to really jump in and get a deeper dive. But if you kick around our website if you have four to seven year olds, we have a five storey we have two different volumes with five stories each that anchored 10 core social thinking concepts between Volume One and Two for four to seven. You definitely can use that with eight year olds, and more immature older kids and then we have things like you mentioned superflex that we pair with social detective because we want our kids to learn to be detectives of their social world as you as we all are and then be able to learn some self regulation processes through that. So that gets up into our traditional us elementary school ages and then in middle school we have a book about learning about yourself and other through the social emotional what we call social emotional chain reaction, how we affect others, how others affect us. And we have a book called Social Fortune Fate. So then we have Socially Curious for Teens and we have a book called Good Intentions Are Not Good Enough for adults. And all of these are pretty folksy reads. So none of it is written in university talk. I think my work is a lot about taking Research, I’m a big reader of the research, along with, you know, my colleagues who work with me and then translating it so people can start to make sense of it. And then giving strategies for treatment across executive functioning and perspective taking based on developmental ages, as well as based on the kids learning abilities.

Debbie Reber  35:20

Well, thank you for reading all the research for us and breaking it down.

Michelle Garcia Winner  35:23

I can’t read all the research, it’s so massive out there, but I get into different buckets at different times. And then we keep learning. It is remarkable that we’re in this you know, we think of ourselves as so sophisticated in all of our learning. And yet, this is a field that is not owned by any discipline out there, our social learning system. If you want to go to somebody who really specializes in how man becomes part of society and learns to be part of society, you have to go to cultural anthropology, where apologists are not trained as teachers yet. So how do we cry? How do we carry this information between different fields and bring it together?

Debbie Reber  36:03

Wow, well, okay, so, so many incredible resources. And you know, we’ve used the social detective materials as well. But I’m definitely going to check out some of the newer resources that you shared. And I know that you have, you know, we’re recording this right at the tail end of 2017. But I know in 2018, you have some exciting things coming up. So before we say goodbye, could you tell us what you have planned for next year?

Michelle Garcia Winner  36:27

Well, for the last five years, we have been working on developing an e-learning platform on our website to be able to share with the global community our trainings, and we have a video studio at our office. So myself and my colleague, Pam Cooke, Dr. Pam Cooke, and a few other people are, we’ve made a series of modules, and we’re going to be launching that I believe, around March, and it will have continuing education opportunities for those who are professionals in the United States. But it’ll be available worldwide. So if you want to learn about that, see some of I do a lot of workshops out there. In fact, people find that the books are obviously helpful, but when they can hear me explain it through an organized talk, like today, I’ve probably been all over the place, they find that the training is very helpful when they can see a video of that. So just go on our website to our newsletter. And you’ll learn about when the the modules become available for purchase, it will be a purchase based system that will also have coupons for discounts and things. And then we also Leah Kuypers. book Zones is one that I published. And I know people are very familiar with Zones of Regulation. And I’m really excited than working with Leah and two of her colleagues in developing a visual navigational tool that we’re not going to call it a game, we’re going to call it a visual support. But it’s a way to take the concepts and zones and play them out on a board to really encourage navigating through a zone and what is regulation look like and helping kids form concepts. So those are a couple of the things we’re working on. Social thinking is always evolving. I didn’t start this with a grant or a university placement, I was working in a high school and saw that there was a real gap in materials for students who have solid language and cognition. And we tend to teach everybody just through very behavioral methods, which can be very valuable, when we know when they’re valuable, but they’re not necessarily valuable when you’re trying to teach really sophisticated social thinking and abilities. I think language and cognition are big game changers in treatment. So I’ve been evolving this work. And I’m lucky to work with many colleagues who helped me to evolve it. And it just keeps going. We keep extending our teaching, as you’ve probably seen over the years.

Debbie Reber  38:51

Yeah, absolutely. Well, it’s so exciting. It’s exciting work that you’re doing. And it’s optimistic for those of us raising differently wired kids to know that you’re there and that there’s so much great information for us to tap into. So I just want to say thank you for sharing so much with us today. And just taking time out of your busy schedule. I know you have a very packed schedule. So I appreciate you making time to come talk with us.

Michelle Garcia Winner  39:17

Sure. Well, thanks for all you guys do out there because it is a lot and people, people really do have to put some energy into understanding social emotional teaching. And, you know, one of the things I’m really encouraging out there is we get frustrated when people don’t respond to us in the way that we want. That’s all over the world. But when we have our kids and we know that they have these diagnosis of ADHD or autism or gifted, twice exceptional, it’s how do we catch our own breath and step away and try to understand how they see the world so that we can all stay a little bit calmer and understanding that these kids brains just make it a little harder for them to fluidly engage and then How can we empower them with tools to help explain rather than expectations that they should just do it? Because they’re smart, right?

Debbie Reber  40:07

Absolutely. Well, these are great resources for us. So, listeners again, I’ll leave all the links. We talked about a lot of different resources. I’ll leave it on the show notes page, and be sure to check out, and thanks again, Michelle. Thank you. You’ve been listening to the tiller parenting podcast for the show notes for this episode, including links to Michelle’s Social Thinking website, her books and curricula, and all of those many, many resources that she mentioned in the conversation, visit If you like what you heard on today’s episode, please consider taking a minute and heading over to iTunes and leave us a rating or a review. We’re still in the top 20 and kids and family category. And honestly, it’s just exciting to see this audience grow and the podcast get more attention. It also makes it easier for me to land those big guests, so it’s a win win. Thanks so much for being a part of making this happen. Lastly, if you aren’t already part of the online community at tilt, I invite you to sign up at every Thursday, I send out a short email with the super short note for me a link to that week’s podcast episode. And I always include links to five stories from the news that week that are relevant to parents like us, you can sign up for that also until parenting. Thanks again for listening and for more information on tail parenting, visit


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