Strategies to Build Social Competencies

The Social Thinking Methodology provides evidence-based strategies to help people ages four through adult develop their social competencies, flexible thinking & social problem solving and improve:

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Teaching Social Competencies - More Than Social Skills

Our teachings help people understand themselves and others to better navigate the social world, foster relationships, and improve their performance at school, at home, and at work. Our unique tools break down complex social concepts (like perspective taking) into understandable and doable parts that can be applied in any setting. For over 25 years, our experts have been a guiding resource for schools, clinics, and families around the world, and our teachings continually evolve based on the latest research and clinical insights. Whether you're helping individuals with ADHD, autism spectrum levels 1 or 2, social communication disorders, or an entire class of typically developing students—our strategies can help you help them.

The Social Thinking Methodology addresses the questions: How does the social world work, and how can we help our students better navigate to regulate within it? How do our social emotional learners function within the social world? Our methodology fosters the development of social competencies so foundational that our work applies across cultures, ages, races, religions, mental health diagnoses, etc., and has been adopted within communities around the world. We stand committed to providing quality, practical information that is rooted in research, built upon real-world experiences, and is responsive to the needs of the people for whom it is designed to help. We are constantly learning and gaining inspiration from our clients and others we meet, so our work is ever evolving yet remains grounded in its adherence to rigorous standards of quality.

Who We Help

The Social Thinking Methodology is designed for individuals age 4 through adult with solid language, cognitive, and learning abilities. Our work is for individuals with social emotional learning differences and/or challenges, whether neurotypical or Neurodivergent (ADHD, social communication learning disorder, social anxiety, twice exceptional, autism levels 1 and 2). Our work has been adopted into mainstream classrooms and districts around the world to improve social-emotional learning for all.

Our strategies are taught by a wide variety of people, including educators, clinicians, families, caregivers, college students, etc. Professionals who use our work include speech-language pathologists, special and general education teachers, social workers, counselors, clinical and school psychologists, occupational therapists, behavior specialists, school administrators, paraprofessionals, marriage and family therapists, and medical professionals, to name a few.

Past to Present

Michelle Garcia Winner, a speech language pathologist, created the concept of social thinking (small “s” and “t”) while working in a high school district in the mid-1990s. The company, Social Thinking (capital “S” and “T”), was founded soon after and began as a small clinic serving individuals with social emotional learning/social communication challenges. As Michelle’s unique Social Thinking (capital “S” and “T”) Methodology and strategies evolved and were shared with the public, demand for the work grew. 

Today we publish our own educational products, give conferences around the world, and provide a large library of free articles on our website, all devoted to helping individuals gain stronger social awareness and social functioning skills through using the Social Thinking Methodology. Our curricula have been implemented in specialty and mainstream classrooms, schools, and districts around the world. More recently, the value of these teachings is being recognized on a wider scale and our work is being adopted as part of social-emotional learning programs for all students. 

The Concept of Social Thinking: It’s Tied to Social Skills and Academics

Social thinking is the process by which we interpret the thoughts, beliefs, intentions, emotions, knowledge and actions of another person along with the context of the situation to understand that person’s experience. If we are engaging or sharing space with another person, we use this information to determine how to respond to affect the thoughts that person has about us to achieve our social goals (such as being friendly to maintain a friendship, acting generous to impress a date, and seeming unfriendly to deflect attention when walking alone late at night, etc.). Social thinking is our meaning maker - it allows us to interpret the deeper meaning behind what others do in the world, and (if the situation calls for it) prompts us with how to respond.  A person’s social thinking ability has a considerable effect on his or her relationships and success in school and at work. It affects the person’s social skills, perspective taking, self-awareness, self-regulation, critical thinking, social problem solving, play skills, reading comprehension, written expression, ability to learn and work in a group, organizational skills, etc.

We practice social thinking all day long, in typical social interactions (like conversations) and in a wide variety of other contexts. Essentially, we use social thinking whenever we think about the perspective of another person. For example,

  • At work – when we become aware that by loudly sipping our coffee we may be bothering our coworkers.
  • At the grocery store - when we move our cart away from the middle of the isle so other shoppers can pass by.
  • Watching TV – when we follow the story by understanding how the characters interpret and then influence each other.
  • While driving - when we slow down upon sensing that another car will cut in front of us.
  • When we’re on social media – to understand the intention of a message and its sender; for example whether it is to be friendly, sarcastic, flirty, compassionate, etc.
  • In conversation – when we attempt to read the thoughts, beliefs, intentions, emotions, knowledge and actions of our conversation partner(s) and adapt our behavior to affect the thoughts they have about us.

The same social thinking ability required to relate effectively to people around us is also essential for success in academics. Students must use social thinking constantly at school, to work effectively as part of a group, stay on task, figure out the expected times to talk in class, and share space well with others in the classroom, cafeteria, and on the playground. Social thinking is also critical to succeed in individualized academic tasks, such as reading a book. Social thinking is required when reading stories to understand the deeper meaning behind the actions of the characters and their relationships. If a student has poor social thinking abilities, he or she will struggle to take the perspective of characters, figure out how they are affected by others, and understand why characters act and feel as they do. These students tend to be “more literal” in how they interpret social cues and can have very strong factual learning.  They tend to do better with informational text but are weak in comprehending social literature. 

Social thinking is also required to write an effective essay. We use social thinking to make sure our arguments make sense to our audience by taking the perspective of the reader and considering what a person may already know or not know about the topic. We must also take the reader’s perspective to consider how to organize the information so it will be logical for the reader to follow. If a student struggles with social thinking, he or she will have difficulty understanding the perspective of the audience and will therefore have trouble writing a persuasive essay that is well organized and easily understood by others. 

Improving a person’s social thinking begins with improving self-awareness. Only as individuals gain awareness of their own thoughts, emotions, and intentions can they become increasingly aware of the thoughts, emotions, intentions, and actions of others. As a result, they are better able to use the information they’ve gained from their social thinking to inform many things they do throughout the day. Improving a person’s social thinking will help improve their social skills (social behavior), reading comprehension, written expression, narrative language, ability to work as part of a group, ability to make and keep friends, etc. Much of what we do in school, at work, and as part of the community requires understanding the perspectives of other people. It all requires social thinking.

Remarkably few educators, administrators, counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, speech language pathologists, parents and caregivers are aware of the power of the social mind and how it seeds our ability to think critically and socially problem solve. In fact, many journalists and politicians refer to social skills as “non-cognitive skills” despite the fact that our social behavior is determined by our social cognition (our social thinking) and has a large effect on the outcome of our lives!

Social Thinking’s Three-part Process of Social Thinking

1. Social thinking is our meaning maker. We observe and listen to interpret the perspectives of others. The first step to improving social thinking is to keenly observe the social world that surrounds us. 

A client of Michelle Garcia Winner, a 43-year-old engineer, found this step particularly valuable. He spent time learning how to observe people to be more aware of the social situations in which he was expected to socially relate to others. He had this to say about the experience: “Observing the social interactions of others is very helpful to me as I formulate how to interact myself. I’ve learned not everyone walks with their head down avoiding eye contact all of the time. I’ve learned when and how to smile. I’ve studied what makes a stranger seem approachable. In short, you have to know the rules of the game in order to play the game

2. When seeking to engage or simply share space with others, we use social thinking to adapt our social behaviors (social skills) effectively as a means to meet our social goals. To do this, we must learn strong self-awareness, self-monitoring, and self-control. We must learn how to adapt our physical posture depending on the context, how we use our eyes to better understand others and communicate, and tools for conversational language to relate to others.  

3. Our social thinking and social skills directly impact how others feel about us. This impacts how we are treated, how we feel about others, and ultimately - how we feel about ourselves!  At the end of the day, our social experience is an emotional experience. The purpose of social thinking is to produce social behavior that gives others the emotional experience you intend to give. The Social Thinking Methodology teaches people to be more aware of their emotions and better predict and relate to the emotions of others.

The Social Emotional Chain Reaction

The three-part process of social thinking leads to one of the core concepts within the Social Thinking Methodology, the Social Emotional Chain Reaction – the idea that how we act affects how others feel, how we make others feel affects how they treat us, how we are treated affects how we feel about others and ultimately how we feel about ourselves. Throughout our teaching we also highlight the fundamental idea that because we have the power to affect the thoughts, feelings, and lives of others, we have a responsibility to treat others who pose us no harm with kindness and respect. We are affected by others, and others are affected by us! Therefore, we must treat others well to benefit from the same treatment.

The Social Emotional Chain Reaction is at the foundation of social interaction and is at the heart of what we teach through the Social Thinking Methodology. Social Thinking (our company) teaches the Social Emotional Chain Reaction in different ways to different ages through our wide array of products, and to professionals, family members, and students in our free library of articles and our 15+ courses. One of our core treatment frameworks that teaches this concept is Social Behavior Mapping, which can be used with all ages.

The Wide Reach of the Social Thinking Methodology

The Social Thinking Methodology is in complete alignment with the following:

  • Social-Emotional Learning as described at
  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports as described at
  • Academic Standards


Social Thinking frameworks, activities, strategies, vocabulary, and assessment techniques are used in:

  • Homes
  • Community-wide programs (sports teams, hobby groups, etc.)
  • Schools: Public, Private, Charter
    • Special education
    • Mainstream classrooms
    • District-wide
  • Universities
  • Residential placements
  • Clinics
  • Counseling offices


The Social Thinking Methodology is recommended by:

  • Speech Language Pathologists
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Teachers
  • Social Workers
  • Counselors
  • Marriage and Family Therapists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Psychologists
  • ABA Providers
  • HR Departments
  • Parents and families
  • Individuals who have benefited from the Social Thinking Methodology

See what people are saying about the Social Thinking Methodology.

Helping You Help Others

Over time, our teachings can help people cultivate relationships and improve performance at school and at work. For over 20 years our experts have been a guiding resource for schools, clinics, and families around the world, and we’re here for you, too. Whether you're teaching individuals with ADHD, autism spectrum (levels 1 or 2), social communication disorders, or an entire mainstream class-our strategies can help you help them.

This has been a game changer for helping general education teachers better understand our ‘awkward’ kids who just don't get it. We have been using the Social Thinking Methodology with our students, they are making friends, are more successful academically, and generally happier in all they do. Thank you! - Jennifer, Special Education Teacher

Social Thinking
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