Founder & CEO Social Thinking, M.A., CCC-SLP
Michelle Garcia Winner is a speech language pathologist (SLP) who specializes in the treatment of students with social cognitive deficits at the Social Thinking Center, her clinic in San Jose, California. It was her interest in autism while attending the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1979 that became the catalyst for becoming an SLP.
Her first two mentors in the field were the late Dr. Carol Prutting (an early pioneer in the study of social pragmatics) and Dr. Robert Koegel (founder of Pivotal Response Therapy, aligned with ABA). While attending graduate school at Indiana University, Bloomington she became involved in the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) under the leadership of Nancy Dalrymple, who became another strong mentor. At IRCA in the 1980s, Michelle worked extensively with teens and young adults, who would by today’s standard be referred to as “classically autistic.” Her students experienced significant intellectual learning challenges, weak speech/language development, and very limited social learning abilities. Michelle excelled at combining her knowledge of communication with behaviorism to help her more cognitively challenged students develop basic functional communication and social skills through behavioral teachings.
After returning home to California in the late 1980s Michelle transitioned to working in hospitals and post-acute hospital rehabilitation centers with neurotypical learners who suffered from head injuries or strokes. There she learned about higher level brain functioning and cognitive rehabilitation. Once her children became school aged, she chose to work for a public high school district in 1995. Her caseload contained many older students who had reasonably strong intelligence and language, but who lacked more refined social communication skills. Social Thinking was born out of necessity as a way to reach those “bright but socially clueless students” who needed more information than just what social skill to use. They needed to know why they should bother to use that skill at all, or even interface with others in their environment. The framework arose out of her early learning related to individuals with more classical autism, combined with her more newly acquired knowledge related to cognitive rehabilitation.
She coined the term “Social Thinking®” in the mid-1990s and continued to evolve the Social Thinking framework that today includes information, vocabulary, curriculum, and strategies that help individuals with social learning challenges become better social thinkers. Her years of experience demonstrated that lessons taught through Social Thinking could apply across a range of disorders that extended well beyond ASD, to individuals with ADHD, nonverbal learning challenges, as well as those with head injuries or emotional learning challenges.
Michelle entered into private practice in 1998 (part-time) and then full time in 1999 due to community demand. Both parents and school districts wanted her to work with their students. Since that time, clinical services have continued to evolve and expand at The Social Thinking Center, where trained professionals work with clients ranging from children to adults in individual and group settings. Michelle continues to carry an active caseload of clients herself, in addition to consulting with families and schools on Social Thinking and designing programs tailored to a child’s individual needs.
The heart of Michelle’s work is illuminating the often elusive and intangible world of Social Thinking, and developing practical strategies that can be easily used by parents, educators, and service providers across different environments. Teaching "social skills" is not enough - individuals with social-cognitive challenges must learn the why and the how of their own and others' abilities to process social information - a capacity that for most of us is intuitive, but needs to be explicitly taught to individuals who enter this world with a brain that does not process social information in the same way. The strength of Michelle's work is her ability to break down the research and abstract concepts and create concrete ways to reach and teach this growing population of children and adults – to give them the chance to develop real social skills they can fluidly use across environments. Her approach led GreatSchools.org, a leading national nonprofit organization, to call Michelle,"...the leading expert in the field of social skills."
Alongside building her clinic, she also began a company now called Social Thinking Publishing, Inc. to handle the growing public speaking demands from national and international sources, as well as to publish her own books and an increasing number of books by innovative professionals using the Social Thinking framework. To date Michelle has written or co-authored more than 20 books on Social Thinking. Her work is being applied not only to persons with higher-functioning autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADD/ADHD, and related disabilities, but also more broadly to students in mainstream classrooms and to adults in vocational and professional settings in the U.S. and abroad. In 2008, she was awarded a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for developing this treatment approach.
Michelle is internationally recognized as a thoughtful and prolific writer in the area of social thinking/social skills. She travels around the world speaking on a multitude of topics relating to Social Thinking, and repeatedly receives accolades for her educational, energetic, and enthusiastic workshop presentations.
"...one of my favorite authors in the field of teaching emotional intelligence. Michelle Garcia Winner has pioneered some very helpful ways of conceptualizing and helping educators understand the social challenges that students on the autism spectrum face..." Stephan Borgman, Psychology Today, "Spectrum Solutions"
More recently, research published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders supported Social Thinking vocabulary use with individuals with higher-functioning autism and Asperger’s.
Michelle’s passion in life is to help administrators, educators, and parents appreciate how social thinking and social skills is an integral and critical part of an individual’s academic, vocational, community, and personal success at all stages of life.
Michelle lives in San Jose, CA with her partner and has two daughters, Heidi and Robyn.
Financial: Michelle Garcia Winner is employed by Think Social Publishing, Inc. as an author/speaker and receives compensation for her presentations as well as the sale of her books and by the Social Thinking Center as a clinician. Michelle owns the companies Think Social Publishing, Inc as well as The Social Thinking Center, Inc. and their related intellectual property.
Non-financial: No relevant non-financial relationship exists.
Honors & Awards
Outstanding Achievement Award, California Speech- Language-Hearing Association (CSHA)
Outstanding Achievement Award, California Speech- Language-Hearing Association (CSHA)
California Speech, Language and Hearing Association (CSHA), District 4 – Outstanding Achievement Award to Dr. Pamela Crooke and Michelle Garcia Winner.
Lifetime Achievement Award, the Prentice School
Lifetime Achievement Award, the Prentice School
Michelle received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Prentice School on the 24th of February. Carol Clark, the administrative executive director of Prentice School, presented the award to Michelle at the Social Thinking conference hosted by the Prentice School in Santa Ana, CA, for her innovative contributions to parents, professionals and individuals with social and communication challenges. The Prentice School is an independent, nonprofit school for students who struggle with reading, writing, spelling, oral language, and math. Upon humbly receiving the award, Michelle jokingly stated that while the award makes her sound brilliant within her field, during her years in school she was an average student who planned on always being a speech-language pathologist. Even through her years working in the school systems as an SLP she stated, “the principle never knew what to do with me, so she just let me work with my students as I pleased. I was able to re-organize their class schedules so that they all were able to come to their speech class with me.” Her goal was simply to give her students the best possible education both from a social and a scholastic standpoint. It was during these years that she spent as an SLP in the school that she started the development of a social communication curriculum, which in time grew into Social Thinking. Michelle had never planned on Social Thinking becoming what it is today: a curriculum used around the world with all ages, abilities and cultures.
We are thrilled to announce that AASCEND (Autism, Asperger Syndrome Coalition for Education, Networking and Development) has honored Michelle on Saturday, October 18th for her steadfast work with the autism community and in education! The mission of AASCEND is to build and sustain a community of support for adults on the autism spectrum, family and friends, and autism service professionals. We work together to create and implement innovative approaches in education, networking and development to address autism's core challenges. "It's such an honor to receive an award from a group whose work I respect so much! We need to stay focused on the needs of our adults as our kids are going to spend the vast majority of their years as adults. There are so many things for all adults to keep learning about the social world! Thank you for this award!" - Michelle
2008 Congressional Recognition Award
2008 Congressional Recognition Award
Michelle Garcia Winner received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for her groundbreaking work helping individuals who have autism spectrum disorders and related social thinking challenges. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey honored Michelle with the award, as the social thinking methods Michelle has developed are becoming the basis for curricula around the country.
Social Thinking Across the Home and School Day: The ILAUGH Model (kinder - young adult)
Discover an array of strategies that bolster social learning and support the Common Core/State Standards! Explore lessons to make the abstract social world more concrete and understandable. Through the ILAUGH Model of Social Thinking learn how social ability impacts academic success. Uncover how challenges in social communication, executive functioning and perspective taking impact written expression, reading comprehension, organizational skills, and working in a group; and learn strategies to improve all of the above! Rounding out the day: learn essential tips for effective IEP goal writing and data keeping.
The Social Thinking Informal Dynamic Assessment and Core Treatment Strategies (kinder - young adult)
Delve into the inner mind of a person with social learning challenges. Our Informal Dynamic Assessment is designed to uncover why an individual may struggle to work in a group or interpret information. Use the results to tailor treatment* plans and track progress. Through video clips and discussion learn central concepts for running effective Social Thinking treatment groups and lessons to use at home. Finally, explore three core Social Thinking strategies to use immediately: Social Behavior Mapping, The Friendship Pyramid, and The Spirals of Social Anxiety.
Thinking About YOU Thinking About ME (kinder - young adult)
We answer the question: What are a person's core social learning challenges and how can we help? Deepen your understanding of an individual's social mind using the Social Thinking Social Communication Profile. With the help of video clips we uncover different levels of perspective taking, executive functioning and central coherence. Discover strategies to help each type of learner improve his or her social interpretation, social skills, reading comprehension and written expression. Learn about the Four Steps of Communication and how to use social media to teach its concepts. All information can strengthen treatment* plans and can be used in the home, school and community.
Implementing Social Thinking Concepts and Vocabulary: A Day to Develop Team Creativity (kinder - young adult)
Learn over 25 unique Social Thinking concepts and vocabulary! Help individuals advance their ability to understand the social context and tailor their behaviors accordingly. Help others improve their social observational skills, how they work in a group, share an imagination, understand what it means to be a "Just Me" versus "Thinking of Others" person, and relate more effectively with language. Discover tools for teaching self-regulation, executive functioning, emotional understanding and theory of mind/perspective taking. Work in teams to develop lesson plans to implement new strategies in your home, clinic, or classroom the very next day. People love this hands-on, engaging workshop!
“I’m going to be a video game designer!” Helping Teens Prepare for the REAL Adult World (upper elementary - young adults)
Adolescence, angst, and apathy - the characteristics routinely used to describe teens and young adults who yearn for independence, but often have no plan for getting there. This transition can overwhelm individuals born to social learning challenges, even those who are “bright” with strong language skills. This conference focuses on helping parents and professionals prepare for - and respond to - this transition. Specifically, we will explore the more nuanced expectations that come with the emergence into adulthood and strategies to help individuals develop a more mature social mindset.
Let’s Get Real: Tackling Dilemmas Faced by Adults with Social Learning Challenges (middle schoolers - mature adults)
Bringing a very practical lens to adult clients experiences. Identify the common social breakdowns that cause bright adults to veer out of relationships or fall off career tracks, and explore strategies to help them stay on track. Learn what it means to be an independent adult, the difference between a social informer and a social relator, and how emotions synchronize with our conversations. Discover the 5 Steps to Social Thinking Psychology and the Social Thinking Social-Emotional Chain Effect to which we all subconsciously react and respond. Adults benefit from direct teaching of Social Thinking and related social skills. Come learn what you can do to help!
Teaching Social Thinking to Early Learners through Stories and Play-Based Activities (pre-K - 2nd grade)
Connecting the dots: guide children's early social learning and play experiences to strengthen social thinking and classroom learning. Using video examples and multi-sensory lessons, we provide helpful strategies and Social Thinking Vocabulary to teach children core concepts such as thinking thoughts and feeling feelings, thinking with their eyes, learning about the group plan, developing self-awareness about their body in the group and how they use their whole body to listen! Engaging activities help kids learn in a group through social exploration and play. Core information is from our award-winning curriculum, story, and music collection: The Incredible Flexible You™ Vol 1.
ZOOMING IN: Strategies for Concrete Learners (kinder - young adult)
Delve into the needs of our more literal learners who may have diagnoses such as ASD, ADHD, language learning or sensory integration challenges. They are often perplexed by the abstractions of the school curriculum, show marked difficulty in reading social cues, and are often aloof and less organized. Discover how best to teach individuals based on their age and how to enhance learning in the inclusion-based classroom. Explore lessons that translate abstract social concepts into concrete ideas that can help improve social understanding over time. Participants are provided with tools to tie social treatment* plans to the Common Core Standards. Audience members love the many video examples and treatment tools!
ZOOMING IN: Strategies for Individuals with Subtle but Significant Social Problems (kinder - young adult)
Explore the needs of nuance-challenged social communicators who may have diagnoses such as Asperger's syndrome, ASD, ADHD, or social anxiety. They are often in mainstream education and struggle with the intricacies of social relationships, homework assignments, and working in peer-based groups. Discover effective strategies that encourage nuanced perspective taking and executive functioning while attending to the person's mental health. Take with you nuance-based social learning lessons for use in both treatment* plans and in the mainstream classroom to support the Common Core/State Standards.
Social Thinking Meets RTI and PBS: Social Thinking as a School Wide Systems Approach (kinder-young adult)
This presentation explores the dynamics of using Social Thinking concepts in a school setting based on the differentiation models of RTI and PBS, while incorporating with existing initiatives already in place. Designed to address the diverse learning needs of all students, participants will explore how Social Thinking concepts can be integrated into the core curriculum to increase access to the Common Core State Standards for all students. Information presented demonstrates how the intentional teaching of Social Thinking concepts enhances student learning at the benchmark level, while decreasing behavioral and discipline referrals at the strategic and intensive levels.
Social Detective, Superflex®, and Friends Take On Social Emotional Learning (kinder - 8th grade)
You've asked for this day! Learn how to effectively use two of our key teaching materials: our award-winning first book in the Superflex series, You are a Social Detective! and our Superflex Curriculum to boost social awareness, social learning, and self-regulation. Lessons support Social and Emotional Learning, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and Response to Intervention. These books are designed for elementary school-age children, but we explain how to modify them for use with slightly older and younger kids. Interactive, creative group activities abound in this conference to help our kids transform from 'Me' thinkers to 'We' thinkers!
What Does Play Have to Do with Classroom Learning? Exploring Social Executive Functioning and Social Emotional Learning for Early Learners (pre-K - 2nd grade)
Practical, fun, and innovative strategies! Investigate how to help kids work, play, and learn in groups as well as improve their flexible thinking. We delve deeply into the following teaching concepts: understanding social expectations, flexible versus stuck thinking, identifying the size of the problem, making smart guesses, and sharing an imagination. Introducing Social Thinking's newest tool for treatment* planning, the Group Play and Problem Solving Scale, to differentiate the play-based teaching methods appropriate for each child. Core information is from our upcoming curriculum, The Incredible Flexible You, Vol 2.