Course excerpt from High Functioning Autism in Children
Children with high functioning autism (HFA) differ from other children on the spectrum in that they wish to interact with others but lack the know-how. Thus, social skills training is an important component of remediation for children with HFA.
Michelle Garcia Winner (2007) created the “Social Thinking” program. This approach has gained popularity in recent years because it teaches children the “why” of social decision-making, not just rote social skills. This training can help children with the generalization of their social learning skills across various settings. Such interventions aim at teaching children the thought processes that underlie social behaviors so that they can think flexibly and tailor their behavior to a given situation.
Up until now, professionals have generally tried to teach children specific skills, such as greetings or initiating a topic of conversation and then practice with them to improve the development of these skills. This does not account for the fact that we cannot use social skills in the same way under different social situations. For example, “consider a 13-year-old boy who – based on the culture of his age – is actually expected to say “What’s up?” when greeting his peers, say “Hi” when greeting his teacher and then say “Hello” when brought into a formal meeting.” (For more detail, visit the Social Thinking website at https://www.socialthinking.com )
According to Garcia Winner (2015):
The gap between teaching students behaviorally based, memorized social skills and the need to teach our students how to adapt their social skills based on the expectations of the situation and the people in the situation is the gap between the more tradition social skills teachings and Social Thinking. When teaching Social Thinking we are teaching students to become active social problem solvers who are not focused on memorizing what to do socially but instead are engaged in figuring out what people around them are doing, what they are expecting, what our students are seeking in their interactions with others and all this helps them to figure out how to interact in any given time or place and with different people. (para. 3)
Garcia Winner adds that social thinking is not only employed when we are involved in social interactions, it may be utilized any time we share a common space. For instance, social thinking is engaged when one is at the supermarket and moves their shopping cart out of the way, as a courtesy to a fellow shopper.
Instructing children on social skills involves the conveyance of the presence of other people’s minds, as well as social thoughts. To do this we can employ the four steps of perspective thinking.
The four steps listed and discussed here (adapted from https://www.socialthinking.com/Articles?name=social-behavior-starts-social-thought-perspective-taking) can assist students with recognizing and considering the extent to which they think about other individuals, and adjusting their behaviors to suit, even in the absence of intentional communication. We may engage these four steps to accommodate just about any social interaction:
• Step 1: Whenever you share a common space with another individual, both of you generate thoughts in regard to the other. You have thoughts about them, and they have thoughts about you.
• Step 2: Initially, individuals will typically consider the intentions and motives of the other. If one person or the other appears suspicious, they will be scrutinized more closely by the other individual.
• Step 3: Each individual will likely consider and estimate how the other person is assessing them, whether it be positive, negative, or neutral. Another aspect is that there may be a history between the two individuals, which impacts how these thoughts may be weighed.
• Step 4: Steps may then be taken, in the form of behavior modification, to alter or maintain the perception that we wish to project for the other individual, and the other individual is likely reciprocal in this activity.
The four steps described above occur at an intuitive level (below immediate consciousness) within milliseconds. The initial three steps engage social thought, whereas only the last step involves behavior.
When discussing these steps with students, it can be explained that this process is based on the fundamental assumption that all of us innately wish other individuals to have reasonably “good” thoughts about us, even when our interactions are fleeting. Further, this assumption has the opposite concern embedded within it; we do not wish for other individuals to have “strange” or uneasy thoughts about us. It can indeed be a challenge for spectrum students to simply perceive that other individuals likely have thoughts that are different from their own, let alone mentioning that we all partake in having both good and weird thoughts about others. Most students with social learning difficulties rarely, if ever, stop to contemplate that they, too, can entertain strange thoughts about others.
In addition, many students with autism do not understand that social memories play a critical role in our day-to-day interactions. All of us have emotional social memories of individuals that are derived from how they make us think about them over time. People whose actions convey “good” thoughts in the minds of others are much more likely to be considered as “friendly” and have a far better likelihood of making friends than those who generate “weird” thought memories in the minds of others. In teaching social thinking, students should not only be helped to realize they have to be responsible for their own behaviors over time, but also be made aware of the associated social memories that people retain about them. The rationale behind someone calling a friend or co-worker to clarify or apologize for how their actions might have been interpreted is to instill improved social memories about themselves in their brains.
The Four Steps of Perspective Taking are engaged when we share space with others and are a requirement toward the appropriate behavior of student’s in the classroom. An unspoken rule in the classroom setting requires that all students and teachers participate in an awareness of, and mutual social thought about, the others in the class. Also, that each student, and the teacher, is responsible for monitoring and modifying their behaviors accordingly. A student who is not proficient in these four steps is typically considered to have a behavioral issue.
Students with social learning deficits must learn cognitively what many individuals do naturally and intuitively. Therefore, to assist them with grasping perspective-taking, lessons should be actively taught that include these four steps. To ponder this aspect in more depth, try spending a day observing/noting your own social thoughts, and how they impact your actions in the presence of others. Subsequently, one’s own social thinking may serve as a guide for instructing ASD students. For instance, teachers often discover that students with high functioning autism develop quite an interest in their own, and others’ thoughts, once the process is broken down into discrete elements that can be observed, discussed, and related to their own day to day lives.
Follow this link to learn more about teaching children perspective-taking and to learn strategies to ease transitions, prevent meltdowns, and teach organizational skills.
CE Credit: 4 Hours
Target Audience: Psychology CE | Counseling CE | Speech-Language Pathology CEUs | Social Work CE | Occupational Therapy CEUs | Marriage & Family Therapy CE | Nutrition & Dietetics CE | School Psychology CE | Teaching CE
Learning Level: Introductory
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