I love Social Thinking. I’m all for it. I’ve been trained in it for years, both of my jobs involve it on a daily basis, I’ve seen what it can do for kids with autism or various other diagnoses. That being said, I need to make one point clear, one that some people either overlook or don’t understand. And let me preface this by saying that I am not talking about kids with autism who are nonverbal, who have little functional communication, who are on the far end of the spectrum. I’m talking about the more middle-to-higher communicative kids. Okay.
We teach “Thinking with our eyes,” and “Keep your brain in the group” and all of the other wonderful catch phrases. And once they catch on, they work wonders. But sometimes they are not going to work. Sometimes, no matter how long you’ve worked on that skill, your autistic student is not going to “think with their eyes” and look at you while you’re in a conversation with him. Sometimes, no matter how many times you explain that it’s unexpected to blurt out a random thought, she is still going to blurt. It’s not (necessarily) because s/he doesn’t understand that skill.
Some of it has to do with processing. For that first student, it’s possible that his brain is overloaded. Maybe he has a language disorder as well and lags behind in receptive or expressive communication. Maybe, his brain is trying so desperately to listen to what you’re saying, understand it, remember it, and formulate the “expected” response that there is just no more availability for his brain to ALSO look at you, visually process what you look like, what your mouth movements look like, AND do all of those other skills. For the second student, maybe her working memory skills aren’t so solid. Maybe she doesn’t know (as one of my students was able to explain to me — changed the way I thought about this entirely) how to “keep thoughts from coming down to her mouth” and “keep them in her brain until later.” Maybe, as this student also explained to me, she hasn’t learned how to “save a thought in her mind” so that she can “remember it later.” Maybe her blurting isn’t her not caring about expected behaviors, but maybe it has to do with the fact that her brain sent that thought down to her mouth, and her mouth needs to say the five-word script from a commercial in order for her to move on. And maybe, as is in the case with my student, if you let it happen but get her right back on track, it’s actually more productive and beneficial. Or maybe that student’s brain is so disorganized, and there are so many scripts and facts and thoughts floating around, that if she doesn’t say that thought right away, she will forget it forever, and she desperately wants you to hear how important it is to her. So maybe the solution isn’t to berate the individual for being “unexpected” during class, but rather, say, “We can talk about that at the end of class, I’ll write it down so I remember for you,” and get right back to the lesson.
PLEASE don’t get me wrong. Social Thinking is incredible. But it’s not a full-proof solution for every moment of every day. Sometimes, we need to go with our intuition. To put ourselves in these kids’ shoes (which I realize is easier for some than others — I happen to believe that while I fall on the “typical” side of the continuum, I am close enough to the point where “autism” begins that I understand a lot about these kids intuitively) and think, “Is there a reason this isn’t working, other than because they can’t do it?” And maybe you’ll be surprised.