Social Thinking: What You Need to Know

By Kate Kelly
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At a Glance

  • The Social Thinking teaching framework is designed to help kids who struggle with social skills.

  • Social Thinking teaches kids how to figure out what other people may be thinking and feeling.

  • Building these skills can lead to better social interactions.

You may have heard of a teaching framework called Social Thinking® and wondered if it might help your child with social skills issues. Here are some details on it, and how it works.

What It Focuses On

Social Thinking focuses on helping kids figure out how to think in social situations. Kids are taught to observe and think about their own and others’ thoughts and feelings. They also learn the connection between thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

The idea is that kids need to develop social “thinking” before they can use social “skills.” The focus on thinking can help kids understand how to interact more effectively with others.

Where to Find It

Social Thinking is taught in schools, private programs and clinics across the U.S. The company also has its own clinics in San Jose, California, and in Boston. These clinics work with both kids and adults.

There are therapists around the country who use Social Thinking concepts and materials. You can find a list of therapists with advanced training on the Social Thinking website.

Who It’s For

Social Thinking is designed for ages 4 through adult. The teaching framework is geared for people with average to above average language and cognitive skills. Its concepts and strategies are used to help with:

  • Social learning and thinking differences. These include nonverbal learning disabilities and ADHD. Social Thinking is often used with kids who have high-functioning autism.

  • Trouble picking up on social cues such as facial expressions and body language.

  • Difficulty listening or working in a group.

How It Works

Social Thinking materials break down social concepts and so adults can convey them in ways that make sense to kids. For example, kids aren’t simply told to “make eye contact.” Instead, they learn about “thinking with your eyes”—that people’s eyes are sources of information. By following someone’s eyes, kids can get “clues” about what that person is thinking or might do next.

Kids may work on other social concepts, too. They may learn how to figure out and follow the group plan and about whether their body and brain are in sync or out of sync with the group. They may learn about making a smart guess or figuring out the “hidden rules” and what is expected or unexpected behavior.

Once kids are taught these concepts, they learn how to apply them to different situations. Social Thinking materials and teaching strategies are aligned with a child’s “level of the social mind.” They are also aligned, to some extent, with age.

Early learners might learn the core concepts at a simpler level, through storybooks and music. Grade-schoolers might be taught using comic-book like characters, among other strategies. Materials for tweens and teens are geared to the subtler social demands they face.

Social Thinking is a very flexible approach. Teachers and parents can adapt materials to meet the specific needs of a child. Social Thinking pairs well with other programs that build social skills. Start by asking if your school offers any social skills groups. You can also look for a specialist in your area who is focused on social learning. If your child has an IEP, talk to the team about adding social skills goals.

Key Takeaways

  • Social Thinking is a flexible teaching framework that can help individuals become stronger social thinkers.

  • Social Thinking offers different materials for different ages and thinking abilities.

  • Ask your child’s school about social skills programs and groups.

About the Author

About the Author

Kate Kelly 

has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Kelli Johnson, MA 

is an educational speech-language pathologist, working with students from early childhood through 12th grade.

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