6th Annual Social Thinking® Providers Conference: A Review

I am so thrilled to be part of the Social Thinking Blogging team. As part of the team, I’ll be bringing you reviews of Social Thinking products, curriculums, books and conferences. If you are not familiar with Social Thinking, don’t worry. In each post I’ll give a quick explanation with links for more information. I have been using the Social Thinking Framework in practice with children aged 3 through middle school for about 7 years now. If you work with children with social-cognitive disabilities (or have a child who struggles with social skills and understanding social rules), I HIGHLY recommend the Social Thinking Framework. Disclosure: I attended the conference at no cost to me in exchange for a review of the conference and social media sharing. All thoughts and opinions are mine alone and are not influenced by compensation. There are affiliate links to Amazon in this post for your convenience. 

Oh my goodness….what a weekend! I attended the 6th Annual Social Thinking® Providers Conference in San Francisco on Friday and Saturday. There was so much information, that my head is spinning with what I want to share with you all! I will say that I really did enjoy this conference a great deal and learned a lot of great new information that I can use with my clients of all ages. Before we begin, let me just do my quick review again on Social thinking for those of you who are reading about this topic for the first time:

Social Thinking® is a teaching framework for individuals aged preschool through adult, created by Michelle Garcia Winner, CCC-SLP (I’ll refer to her as  MGW) (www.socialthinking.com ). It consists of a Social Thinking Vocabulary that establishes a common language to discuss social functioning, curriculum lessons and strategies that break down social concepts into concrete, teachable formats, and the Social Thinking-Social Communication Profile, a tiered informal assessment tool that helps educators and clinicians better understand different levels of social cognition and match teaching strategies to the social strengths and challenges of the individual. Social Thinking “explodes the social code” to help children and adults learn to be better social thinkers and social communicators.

Now, let’s talk about the conference!

Social Thinking Conference Image

The conference was three days long. Each day, there were several different breakout sessions that could be attended. I will discuss these sessions below for the two days I attended along with some GREAT links to information that were provided during the sessions. Make sure you go check out all the links I share…there is some awesome (and some even FREE) information!!

Friday June 21st

Teaching Social Thinking Strategies Well vs. Teaching them Poorly

Presenters: Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke. Michelle and Pam talked about the Do’s and the Don’ts of teaching Social Teaching Lessons and updates with where they have come over the years. This was a wonderful presentation full of humor and laughter (Michelle is really very funny and a GREAT speaker). Here are some of the highlights covered in this presentation:

  • The nuts and bolts of social things: “The ability to consider your own and others’ thoughts, emotions, beliefs, intensions, knowledge, etc. to help interpret and respond to the information in your mind and possibly through your social behavioral interactions.”
  • Social thinking is closely related to CBT- Cognitive Behavior Therapy, but it is “a little of everything”
  • Social thinking is NOT for everyone! And it is NOT something that is only targeted during lunch and recess
  • Social thinking is not as much of an evidenced based practice, it is a practice based on evidence -Pam Crooke
  • Went over the four most common infractions/misuses of the Social Thinking Curriculum
  • Discussed the Social Thinking Social Communication Profille (Read more HERE)
  • Provided a link to how we can measure social success (You can find that link HERE).
  • To sum it all up: “Treatment is often about the need to go backwards in order to move ahead and so do we.”

Social Thinking 101

Presenters: Pamela Crooke: Pam went over the basic nuts and bolts of Social Thinking “The ability to consider your own and others’ thoughts, emotions, beliefs, intensions, knowledge, etc. to help interpret and respond to the information in your mind and possibly through your social behavioral interactions.” and “It is the ability to adapt your behavior effectively based on the people in the situation and what you know about them to react and respond to you in the manner you had hoped.” Though I am familiar with the Social Thinking Curriculum and have used some of the principals over the last several years, I chose to take this as a “refresher” course, and I am glad I did. This was a great mini lesson in Social Thinking. Here are a couple highlights from the session:

  • Social thinking lessons use a cognitive-behavioral approach to teach the concepts, or the “thinking through the ‘why'” of social behavior.
  • Pam reviewed ASHA’s stance on Evidenced Based Practice: “The conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individuals by integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available evidence from systematic research” AHSA 2006 and the difference between evidence based practice (EBP) and practice based on evidence (PBE)
  • Pam reviewed The I LAUGH Model (Read all about it HERE)
  • How we teach how to deal with boring moments- this is a LIFE skill
  • Reviewed Superflex– one of the key tools in the Social Thinking Curriculum (read more HERE)
  • Reviewed the Social Learning Tree (LOVE THIS!!!)

Its OK to Have Red Zone Feelings, But Red Zone Behavior is Unexpected – An Extension of the Zones of Regulation® for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum

Zones_of_Regulat_4ee12d6142274 Presenter: Christine Peck- I think this was my most favorite session. Christine is a psychologist and a board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) (you may remember that I have my certificate in ABA and dream of being a BCBA myself someday). She shared how she uses the combination of the Zones of Regulation, Social Thinking and the SCERTS models together to help children (specifically those on the autism spectrum) be able to self regulate their behavior. Some highlights from the session:

  • Review of The Zones of Regulation® (learn more HERE)
  • Review of the SCERTS Model® (learn more HERE)
  • Review of Social Thinking® principals of expected and unexpected behaviors, the size of the problem, and Flexible Thinking with Superflex (read more about Social Thinking Basics HERE)
  • Shared some great teaching tools to help teach behavioral self-regulation using the above three methods as well as tips for data tracking and evaluating success

Social Thinking Meets Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Presenters: Judith M Glasser & Susan M Abrams- This was a super interesting session about how Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Social Thinking can be used together. A quick review of CBT was super interesting and honestly, the concepts can be applied in just life in general (I LOVE presentations like that, don’t you?) Some highlights from this session:

  • Review of CBT (you can read more at Beck Institute for Behavioral Therapy)
  • An explanation of the Cognitive Thought Record and how it can be combined with the Social Behavior Map, including how they were used with a group of children with autism.

Approaching Social Thinking as a Family- A Parent’s Perspective

Presenters: Monica Elias- This was such an awesome and different session. Monica is an SLP AND a mother to boys with some social-cognitive challenges. She shares how she uses the Social Thinking Curriculum in the home with her boys and husband. She talks about the process she uses to use this curriculum as a family vs. in the classroom setting and how she even made up her own worksheets! Her family is absolutely adorable and her honesty and openness to share was refreshing. Some highlights from this session:

  • Social Thinking classroom curriculum can be modified to be used in a home environment as part of a family therapy with the right professional leading (in this case, it was an SLP/Mom)
  • The goals for home/family therapy will be a bit different from those in the schools, but are still somewhat similar.
  • Generalization of skills in the home setting can be targeted within everyday actions!
  • You need to know when it is time to “back off” of the home therapy, however. Family members can get a burn out.
  • In the future, coming up with pre/post dynamic assessments specific to the home/family environment as well as a checklist that can be utalized to really zone in and target specific behaviors/areas would be really beneficial to this model.

Saturday June 22nd

The second day was set up a little differently. Rather than having several little breakout sessions to choose from, we had three longer sessions as a large group (over 330 people). Today was geared mostly towards bulling,  which is a subject I know effects those of you who are in the schools (or have children in school) a great deal. Here are the summaries/highlights from each session.

Dealing with Bullying and Preventing School Violence

Presenter: Dr. Frank Sacco- The presenter is an author of books on the subject of bullying (see suggested reading at the bottom of the post for links to his books). This presentation focussed on the subject of bullying in schools, the causes, and how to address this issue. I’ll be honest, I was a little skeptical of this session because I am not currently in the school setting…but I was thrilled to have my skepticism changed as soon as he began to talk. Frank was very entertaining and funny and had a lot of really great information to share (even for me, who is not currently in the schools…this information is really great for anyone because let’s face it….bullying is EVERYWHERE).  I really LOVED his views, outlook, honesty, humor and no0nonsense straight forwardness. The bottom line when it comes to bullying, which he shared in the beginning of the presentation, are these three key issues:

  • Bullying is a social process not a person: bully-victim-bystander dynamic
  • All schools need a unique personally designed approach: anti-bullying is a philosophy of leadership NOT a program
  • Prevention and intervention need to begin early and be woven together: school violence is a community issue reflected in the school

Though the presenter is not a specialist with autism and/or social thinking, the children/students we work with are at an increased risk of being bullied by their peers due to their unique behaviors and challenges. But…children/students are NOT the only ones that are bullies in the school setting! Teachers and principals can ALSO be bullies. Other highlights:

  • “Bullies will only do what bystanders will allow them to do”
  • Bullying is a developmental process, and we need to get to them EARLY
  • Children on the spectrum basically have a target on their back
  • Parents substitute drive and ambition for emotional warmth and value, which perpetuates the problem
  • Bullying is a play with an audience of bystanders, and bullies will only do what the bystanders allow (SO IMPORTANT)
  • Bullying is most dangerous during non class times and transitions in grades.
  • Back Off Bully Program  FREE manual and tools for climate change in the schools (Cool stuff!) Posters, cards, pictures…etc.
  • The opposite of a bully is an UPSTANDER (vs a bystander)

Helping Parents Provide Emotional Support for Their Child

Thinking About You:Me Presenter: Dr. Marci Schwartz- This session was about building the skills necessary needed in children with social-cognitive differences to eventually provide the child with self-advocacy skills. This session was FANTASTIC for ANY parent. You don’t need a child with special needs to learn from this session. Just as a parent, I had many “AHA Moments” regarding my OWN children and parenting.Here are some highlights from this session:

  • One of the most important goals in supporting a child in his journey to adulthood through the development of insight and self-awareness comes self-confidence. Self confidence allows the child to develop the critical skill of self-advocacy.
  • Self-advocacy is a skill that involves children and adults: asking what they need and sharing with others their thoughts, feelings and challenges as appropriate.
  • Self-advocacy moves a child from dependent to independent- on a continuum.
  • The way the adults in the child’s life act/react will help the child move along this continuum. OUR actions/reactions we can change.
  •  “If we have the expecations outside the child’s skill set, then we are failing that child.” This is SO true for ANY child. So often just as  parent of a “typical” child, we can expect too much from them, expect them to react like little adults. This does nothing but fail them. When thinking of children with social-cognitive differences, we again need to think about the individual abilities of this child. 
  • We need to get into the child’s head and “see” (acknowledge) their perspective (even if we do NOT agree). There is a difference between acknowledging the child’s thoughts/feelings/perspectives is NOT the same as agreeing! After you acknowledge the feelings/thoughts, you can THEN gently teach them another perspective. if the child feels understood, they will trust you and be more willing to try new things as we try to teach new skills.
  • Parents need to be taught how to do this, and how to OBSERVE- not act but observe, and THINK about why your child may be acting the way they are. See if you can figure out their perceptive.

Panel Discussion: Creating a Conversation on How to Approach the Topic of Aggression

Panel members: Dr. Nancy Cotton, Dr. Frank Sacco, Principal Randy Martino, and Michelle Garcia Winner- This included a short intro presentation on the issue of aggression in children with social-cognitive differences. The panel discussed the issues going on and then how we can start to CHANGE it. Talking about verbal violence, maladaptive emotional regulation, and physical threat and aggression. One of the issues is that no one is rally talking about it. Michelle commented that every time she tries to discuss it, the subject gets dropped. The presentation talked about some of the reasons we don’t talk about it, and why we need to start.

  • Start with taking about where they are NOT raging…and move from there. What makes him calm? Where is he calm? Start there. 
  • Work as a team to come to a common consensus of the child and take the cognitive age into consideration
  • There is always a choice…find the cause of the rage and see what the choices are

Suggested Reading:

There were a LOT of suggested reading materials suggested during the conference, and I thought I would share these with you! Happy reading!

Social Behavior Mapping Books/Curriculum/Programs:


So……Should YOU go to a Social Thinking Conference/Workshop?

If you work with children with social-cognitive differences (which is probably the majority of SLPs), I HIGHLY recommend attending a Social thinking workshop/conference. Reading the books on the subject are a great introduction, but being able to see and hear how OTHERS put these methods and curriculum to use is so important. The fact that we can use the Social Thinking methods to help “our kids” (as they were often referred to throughout the conference), build self confidence, avoid bullying, prepare for the “real world,” help them cope in the home…to see all these methods being used in SO many ways was inspiring and motivating to say the least! So if you ever have a chance to attend a conference/workshop DO IT!

And remember..these workshops are NOT just for SLPs. They are for any professional or parent that works with/has children with social cognitive differences. So OTs. PTs, counselors, teachers, etc.

Final Thoughts and Insights

Some of the best things I took away/agreed with from this conference:

  • I LOVED the Social Thinking Social Learning Tree that Pam shared in the 101 class. She said “We spend too much time on the leaves (small individual skills) but what happens of there are problems in the roots or trunk?” (click on that link to read about the tree).
  • We need to look at the term “evidenced based practice” differently. This topic came up again and again throughout the conference. There is more to evidence than results of studies.
  • Michelle wrapped the intro segment on aggression with some comments that I 100% agree with and some points that also drive me batty: The fact that so many schools do not consider social-cogntive skills part of “academics.” That the issues these children have with social-coignitive skills are not impacting their “education” because the child’s grades are ok. An education is not measured by grades or test scores or IQ score. (I feel the same way about simple articulation errors like /r/ and lisps that are not being treating in some schools because the SLPs cannot prove “educational impact”)

So tell me, have you ever been to a Social Thinking Conference?


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  1. says

    I have gone to several of Michelle’s presentations over the years most recently I October 2012.

    I went to her 1st Annual Social Thinking Providers Conference and it was wonderful. I have not been able to attend other years and so have missed it. Such great information and connections!

    Thanks for sharing. I have all the materials.