Social Thinking. Brilliant!

As I write this article, alone, in my home office, I’m heavily engaged in the act of social thinking. Allow me to explain in social thinking terms…

I’m thinking about you, thinking about me. I am hoping that what I am writing is giving you good thoughts about me. I know when you have good thoughts about me, I may experience good things like a phone call or email indicating that you liked what I wrote. When that happens, that makes me feel good about myself. I really hope that what I am writing does not feel too unexpected causing you to have weird or uncomfortable thoughts about me, which may result in you unsubscribing to my newsletter, which would result in me feeling kinda bad, worried, or even frustrated. While writing an email newsletter does require social thinking, it is actually a lot harder since I can’t think with my eyes, which is really helpful for being a social detective.

If you are not familiar with Social Thinking(TM), you may have had some “Uncomfortable Thoughts/Weird Thoughts” about me while you were reading. That is because when anyone does something that is considered “Unexpected” it causes others to have “Uncomfortable or Weird thoughts” about that person. On the other hand, when people do what is “Expected” people tend to have good thoughts about that person. When someone does something that causes others to have those uncomfortable or weird thoughts about them, sometimes that person may experience something negative, such as getting yelled at, made fun of, bullied, etc. And I think we can all agree that nobody feels good after getting bullied, yelled at, teased, or getting in trouble. However, we do feel good when good things happen as a result of making others feel good about us for engaging in “expected behaviors.”

Many of the poor social behaviors we see kids, teens and adults exhibit make parents, teachers, and peers uncomfortable. Consequently, it is common for adults to point out the odd behavior by telling the violator of an unwritten social rule that their behavior is “inappropriate.” I believe that this is done with the intention of helping the individual recognize that they violated a hidden social rule. However, if we know that picking up on social cues is part of the person’s disability, does it make sense to use a word that has significant emotional content attached to it – primarily judgment – attached to it?

These hidden rules govern the expected social behaviors in every environment which for most of us comes intuitively. So, when somebody violates one of these rules we have uncomfortable thoughts about the person, because the behavior was unexpected. It is important to give individuals with social-cognitive deficits feedback about their behaviors. However let’s help them understand these rules intellectually (which plays to their strengths) instead of intuitively. How do we do this? One way is to use a Social Behavior Map.

Social Behavior Mapping maps the behaviors that are Expected and Unexpected in social situations.  As one of my 10 year old clients with Asperger’s said when I was introducing Social Behavior Mapping to him, “Oh, it’s like cause and effect.” My response, “Exactly!”Social Behavior Mapping Looks like this:Expected Behavior –> Thoughts of Others –> Consequences Experienced –> Feelings about Self.  Social Behavior Mapping helps to explain the logical sequence of Social Thinking starting with the fact that as soon as you share space with others, they are having thoughts about you. It is up to each of us to figure out what is expected in order to keep people having good thoughts about us. In other words, whether you like it or not, people are having thoughts about you, trying to figure out what you want, and making judgments about you all the time. This is not a matter of “it’s not nice to judge,” it’s the facts about social thinking! We all make judgments about others.

We need to encourage individuals with social thinking challenges to do the same, to reinforce the idea that I’m thinking about you thinking about me. For more information about Social Behavior Mapping and other related Social Thinking ideas, visit the Social Thinking Website for books, posters, curricula and videos. www.socialthinking.com

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