Social Thinking Workshop Jamaica NY

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Boosting Communicating through Physical Presence

Boosting communicating through physical presence

Michelle Garcia Winner

Caleb is a 23-year-old "bright" young man with Asperger's Syndrome who is particularly gifted in math. He recently participated in a social thinking assessment at our clinic. Caleb recognized and acknowledged he has never been able to figure out how to be perceived as "friendly" when around others, but he sincerely desires to have friends to hang out with and learn what he can do to bring this about.

As part of the assessment I asked Caleb to get up from the table and move with his father and me to the other side of the room, where we were to stand in a group. He quickly stood to join us, but positioned himself two arms' length away from me. His father was standing the more typical one arm's length away. I pointed out to Caleb that this simple body positioning sent unspoken messages to those around him about how interested he was in them. We discussed that a significant part of face-to-face social interactions involve moving our bodies into the "communication zone" of others and then maintaining a physical presence that demonstrates a desire to communicate with the other people. Caleb looked puzzled and somewhat amazed. Despite his intelligence in other areas, he had never thought about communication and friendship being anything more than sharing ideas through language.

Following along from our last column, in which we discussed the different aspects of physical presence and the nonverbal messages our bodies and faces send to others, in this column we will explore strategies to help our students increase their awareness of the part physical presence plays within human interaction.

Before we offer the how-to, take a moment and hear this: Avoid assumptions that are all-too-easy to make: 1) about what our students should "already know" about physical presence; 2) that intelligence equates with social understanding in this area; and 3) that these strategies are only for younger students. Many of our older students with social learning challenges fail to make critical social connections with others because they are completely clueless when it comes to physical presence. They learn the language involved, some even know to stand an arm's length away, but they enter groups in stiff, odd ways that greatly decrease their opportunities to be accepted by others. As discussed in our last column, our bodies convey a sense of emotional comfort (or lack of) in the process of relating to others face-to-face. It is through our bodies, our faces, our gestures that we connect with people at a deeper interpersonal level.

The concept of establishing physical presence involves not only physical proximity, but also how we shift our weight on our legs, subtly move our bodies to talk to different people in a larger group, our general stiffness/relaxation conveyed through our body posture, and our use of gestures and facial expression to support communication. A few brief ideas follo...

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What Are Social Thinking Challenges?

What are social thinking challenges?

Michelle Garcia Winner

What are social thinking challenges?

A classic example of a person with a social thinking challenge is that of my friend Ian who is entering into 4th grade. He has excellent language skills and has amazing abilities to learn information about topics of his interest, such as American History. He enjoys learning topics that are factual in nature and in fact excels in these academic tasks. Regardless of his strong academic abilities in most areas of math and language he struggles considerably focusing his attention in his mainstream classroom, participating as part of a group, explaining his ideas to others in writing and making friends during recess and lunch. He prefers talking to adults, rather than his peers, since adults will discuss with him his areas of interest. When adults are not available to talk to, he goes to the library to read a book. While his teacher enjoys his knowledge, she is mystified by his difficulties at school given that he scores in the fine to superior on academic testing. It is difficult for his teacher to understand that he does not have a behavior problem; instead he has social thinking challenges, which makes it difficult for him to deal with all aspects of the expectations across his school and home day. His mother describes him as “bright but clueless”

Simply put, social thinking is our innate ability to think through and apply information to succeed in situations that require social knowledge. Social thinking is a form of intelligence that is key to learning concepts and integrating information across a variety of settings; academic, social, home and community. Limited abilities for learning and/or applying socially relevant information can be considered a social thinking learning disability.

The great difficulty encountered when trying to determine if a child has social thinking challenges is that standardized tests available through educational, psychological and/or speech and language evaluations fail to reveal problems in this area. Thus a child’s ability to do well on testing in no way proves or disproves the possibility that he or she may have a significant learning disability in the form of social thinking. The reason that standardized tests lack in their ability to illuminate deficits in this area is that testing needs to be highly structured in order to cleanly measure the very specific skills that the test or subtest was designed to evaluate, however social cognition requires the complex integration of multiple skills. Thus, standardized test formats, as we currently know them today, are often counter to the evaluation process for exploring social thinking skills.

Social thinking challenges represent a social executive function problem. The ability to socially process and respond to information requires more than factual knowledge of the rules of social interaction, it also requires the ability to consider the perspective of the ...

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