Michelle Garcia Winner’s book Thinking about YOU Thinking about ME is a thoughtful text on teaching perspective taking skills to individuals with social cognitive learning challenges. People meeting this descriptor are often on the autism spectrum. They demonstrate significant weaknesses in their ability to recognize that other people have independent thoughts and/or see the world differently than themselves. This egocentric viewpoint results in many of the social challenges that they experience. Since social skills impact people throughout their entire lives, this book can be used as a framework across an entire life. Whatever the starting point of the individual, you can find information to help them build perspective with this book.
The cornerstone tool of the book is the Social Thinking Dynamic Assessment Protocol®. This informal assessment is used to identify social weaknesses that are frequently not assessed or identified on formal measures. Michelle emphasizes the importance of informal assessments because socialization is an informal and dynamic process that is both skewed by rigid assessment protocols and lost sight of in individual assessment settings. High cognitive functioning can often lead to invalid social testing results because 1:1 in untimed settings, the student may “know” the response, but if the skill is never used or the child takes a long time to identify the “answer,” social impairment results.
From a teacher perspective, this book lent a great deal of food for thought. Most of my interactions with students are in individual or very small group settings. Observing them in their general classrooms is certainly something I have done, but without a framework of social awareness, I have missed a great deal of the complexity of the interactions. I could identify hyperactive behaviors, off task v. on task behaviors, direction following, attentiveness, and whether the student got the gist of instruction. Examining the social interactions, truly the realm of the speech language pathologist, remained a surface level activity.
Michelle advocates a process of breaking social activities into very small steps, identifying where the breakdowns occur and teaching those specific steps in the therapy session. She then argues for taking those skills into the community. For example, once someone can ask for help in the clinical session, go to a store and have them approach the staff for help with something. Teach both families and teachers the skills that need to be practiced and reinforced. Reinforce with natural consequences and verbal praise. Do not be afraid of explicitly stating the real negative social consequences of behaviors. Students who offer soliloquies on their topic of interest are not accepted as friends because peers do not connect with the child and view him or her as self-centered. Understanding real positive and negative consequences provides motivation for change. Individuals on the autism spectrum may not make the connections between their actions and the reactions of the people around them without explicit instruction.
Michelle’s website, socialthinking.com, has useful tools, books and ideas that can be helpful in getting started. There is a wonderful blog entry at http://adiaryofamom.wordpress.com/social-thinking-resource-guide/ that has an overview of the variety of books that Michelle has written and the age groups that they target and general overview of the social thinking products.