<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=412613405606678&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

    Social Thinking: 6 Strategies for Teaching Children with Autism

    Topics: Early Childhood Education, Autism and Language, Autism & Emotions, Elementary (4-12), Teen (13-17), Parents, Articles

    What is Social Thinking?

    Social Thinking is a flexible teaching framework that is designed to help individuals ages four and up with autism spectrum disorder and other social and communication difficulties. The framework helps these individuals better understand the process by which we interpret the thoughts, beliefs, intentions, emotions, and actions of another person within the context of a situation. We use this information every day to better understand the experience of those around us. This understanding helps us respond in a way that will effect the other person’s thoughts about us in order to ultimately achieve our social goals.

    Impact on Academics

    The concepts that individuals learn through the Social Thinking framework are essential to academic success. Students learn the skills necessary to effectively share space with their peers, work well as part of a team or group, and build healthy relationships with others. Additionally, it teaches students when it is appropriate to talk in class versus when they should stay on task and work independently. These concepts are also important in writing an essay or reading a book. Social Thinking helps students improve their ability to take the perspective of the reader to make effective arguments and how to organize information so that it will make sense to the reader.


    How Does it Work?

    The Social Thinking framework breaks down concepts that may otherwise be challenging to explain. It provides the teacher or counselor with a language that makes these topics accessible. Educators are free to adapt the curriculum to best suit the needs of the individual learner. Through clear instruction and support, Social Thinking helps individuals learn how to read implicit clues about what someone is thinking, what they might do next, and how these clues may differ depending on the context of varying situations.


    The 6 Social Thinking Strategies

    1. Flexible Thinking

    Many individuals with autism may have the tendency to exhibit rigid thought patterns. Social Thinking utilizes a group of superheroes to encourage flexible thinking. “The Unthinkables” are a group of comic characters that try to make people inflexible and experience challenges such as getting off topic, getting distracted, and getting stuck on topics. “Superflex” can be called on when someone is exhibiting rigid thinking to help encourage that person to see the situation from a different, more flexible, perspective.

    1. social-thinking-sharing-tea.png

      Stages Learning Sequencing Cards

      Whole Body Listening

    We notice when someone’s brain or body is not part of the group. It is important to explain the importance of whole body listening to individuals who struggle with social and communication skills. Whole body listening is a phrase that is used to describe when someone’s eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet, bottom, and brain are quiet, still, and focused on the rest of the group.

    1. Size of the Problem

    Not all problems warrant a big reaction. Social Thinking introduces students to a rating scale to help better understand the range of their problem. Consequently, this will help them to better understand the idea that one’s reaction should match the size of the problem. Big problems call for strong emotional reactions and help from others, where little problems can be worked out if you remain flexible.

    1. Expected vs. Unexpected

    In our society, a range of hidden rules exists in every situation. People are responsible for figuring out what those rules are and for following them. A behavior is considered unexpected when we fail to follow the set of rules in the environment. Doing what is expected helps others feel positively about us, or keeps them “thinking good thoughts”. When people are acting in unexpected ways, it causes others to have “weird” or “uncomfortable” thoughts about them.

    1. Mind Files

    When we are conversing with our peers, the best way to keep them engaged is to discuss common or relevant interests. Over time, we collect information about others that we can place in our “mind file” about a specific person. We can then use this information to have a meaningful and engaging conversation with them.

    1. Social Detective

    We must use our ears, eyes, and brains to figure out what to do or say in a given situation. When we are good “social detectives” we use our senses to “read the room” and gain an understanding of what behaviors are expected or unexpected. We also need to use good social detective skills when talking to peers to determine what they will likely do next, what they are presently doing, and what they mean by what they are saying so that we can respond in an expected way.


    To help your child practice their social thinking strategies, download our free "How Big is My Problem?" worksheet!

    Download Free Worksheet!


    Kelly, K. (2015). Social Thinking: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/partnering-with-child-school/instructional-strategies/social-thinking-what-you-need-to-know

    Socialthinking - Social Thinking's Mission. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.socialthinking.com/LandingPages/Mission


    Courtney Chase

    Written by Courtney Chase

    Courtney Chase is a graduate student at Lesley University studying clinical mental health counseling with a specialization in school adjustment counseling. She is currently interning as a school counselor at Atlantic Middle School in Quincy, MA. Her primary role as a school adjustment counselor is to help facilitate the academic and social success of each unique learner. She helps each student identify individualized goals and strategies for success and promotes the realization of these goals by supporting the student through his or her educational journey.