Ever since Learning Prep School opened its doors in 1970, staff have been involved in, not only helping students learn academic skills, but also recognizing the importance of positive social skills and the significance they hold for each student’s social development. Early on, students were taught “social skills”, also known as social pragmatics. Students were taught behaviors and skills which helped them initiate and maintain conversations and friendships, and behaviors that helped them learn. However, in 2012 Learning Prep began an initiative which has changed the way we think about social skills as well as the way we go about supporting our student’s social and emotional development.
The new initiative is based on the ground breaking work of Michelle Garcia Winner, a speech and language pathologist who has dedicated much of her life to working with clients of all ages who struggle socially. Through her research of social development and theory, as well as her own struggles helping her clients understand the increasing complexities of the ever-changing social world, she developed a curriculum and vocabulary which addresses the roots of social challenges. Michelle’s new approach to supporting people with social communication challenges is called Social Thinking©. Social Thinking is the thinking/understanding/knowledge that lies behind our social behaviors. It is why we do what we do – socially. However, Social Thinking (aka. Social Cognition) does not only positively impact our student’s “social skills”, but also their emotion and physical regulation, academic, and job-related skills.
Students at Learning Prep School are now benefitting from this curriculum. In 2012 an extensive training program began in which LPS Counselors, Speech and Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, and Transition Staff (including Job Coaches), were trained in the core theory and constructs of Social Thinking. They then learned strategies and activities to teach these constructs to students. Phase II of training has focused on providing academic and elective instructors the same foundational knowledge and the strategies for supporting their students. Throughout the program, staff have a common understanding of the foundational skills and knowledge which create successful social communication, and the strategies and language which help to foster the development of these skills. Staff use a wide variety of strategies and approaches to meet the individual needs of our students as well as the overarching core values that meet the needs of all students.
Social Thinking is just one of many approaches which we use. Other strategies include: