The Importance of Social Communication
As children enter elementary school they are expected by most school staff to have the social and emotional ability to work in a group, follow and understand the teacher’s directions, join in and play with their peers, and think about others in a pro-social manner. As students get older and become part of a larger and more complex social world, these demands increase and become more difficult. When children do not have effective skills to navigate these social situations, they may struggle with academics, making friends, and self-esteem.
For most people, interacting with others comes naturally. Social thinking is hard-wired at birth, learned intuitively, and often taken for granted. However, for those with high-functioning autism, PDD-NOS, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADD/ADHD, social anxiety, or other social or self-regulation challenges, this innate ability does not come naturally and is difficult to achieve. This type of challenge is considered a social learning disability or social cognition deficit. It is important to identify the areas of need for children who face these difficulties and help them and their support team understand the importance of social skills and ways to increase them. These children are often misunderstood and thought to be aloof, annoying, or a “problem child.” We believe that with the proper support and guidance, these children can increase their ability to think and be social.
The Need for Social Communication Support
Since social learning is crucial to academic and emotional well-being, educators and therapists around the world are developing innovative treatments for those who are challenged in this area. These strategies help to break down and teach individuals what others learn spontaneously. Led by Michelle Garcia Winner, Social Thinking ® is one of the core intervention strategies that we use at Communication Works (CW). We teach the thoughts behind social skills and help students understand social rules, what is expected in social situations, and how to connect with others.
We explore a wide range of topics and individualized lessons according to the age and ability of each client or group. Sessions typically include:
- Connecting – 5 to 10 minutes of open-talk time to check in with each other and review previous concepts
- Group Lesson – Social cognitive strategies and/or Social Thinking ® vocabulary and concepts
- Practice/Unstructured Time – Functional and fun activities to practice skills with real-time feedback to reinforce the weekly concept or lesson
- Parent/Caregiver Wrap-Up – Therapist reviews the group’s lesson with parents/caregivers as students play a game or watch a video related to that session’s lesson
Some examples of social learning vocabulary and concepts explored are:
- Expected/Unexpected* – understanding a range of hidden or unstated rules in everyday social situations
- Thinking with your eyes* – using your eyes to let another person know you are thinking about them and listening to what they are saying
- Flexible thinking – being able to shift your thoughts and actions to accommodate other people’s ideas or plans
- Thinking of others* or taking perspective – being able to consider the points of view, thoughts, emotions, intentions, and beliefs of other people
Other Curriculum We Use May Include:
The Zones of Regulation ®
Social Stories™ and Comic Strip Conversations™
“Going to group is like getting to eat healthy candy. It’s super fun and it’s good for me.” – 8-year old girl
*Vocabulary based on ideas created by Michelle Garcia Winner for Social Thinking® www.socialthinking.com