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Social Thinking® Challenges

Based on the work of world-renowned expert Michelle Garcia Winner

For most of us, interacting with other people comes naturally. However, students with conditions such as High Functioning Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Verbal or Nonverbal Learning Disabilities, ADHD, or those with no specific diagnosis but struggle with social interactions, often lack this innate ability to think through and succeed in everyday social situations. For them, social thinking must be learned and practiced.

PSLLC’s cutting-edge Social Thinking® groups bring together students of similar ages and abilities for weekly therapy sessions. Students learn ways to more easily “fit in” and establish and maintain friendships.

Based on the work of world-renowned expert Michelle Garcia Winner, we teach social thinking skills ranging from perspective taking, which is understanding that others have “thoughts” separate from our own, to interpreting and responding to the nuances of verbal and non-verbal communication. Learn more about Social Thinking® at Michelle Garcia Winner's website.

Signs of Social Learning Challenges

social thinking
  • Has trouble making friends, keeps to him/herself
  • Socially anxious
  • Socially awkward
  • Can not see the “big picture”
  • Has trouble figuring out others’ intentions
  • Can not “read” body language, facial expressions, context, etc.
  • Is struggling with reading comprehension
  • Has trouble managing his/her time
  • Poor planning and organizing skills
  • Is having difficulty working in a group
  • Does not understand “figurative language”
  • Difficulty initiating conversations and social interactions
  • Does not show empathy
  • Has trouble holding a job
  • Is being repeatedly bullied
  • Is refusing to participate in school activities

Who can benefit from participating in the social thinking groups?

Groups are geared for students with average to above average IQ who have social cognitive deficits as a result of High Functioning Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, Non-verbal Learning Disorder (NLD), or those with no specific diagnosis. We work with students starting in kindergarten and, as students progress in school, they gradually move on to more complex social thinking topics depending on their maturity and interest level.

How the groups work

New groups are formed at the beginning of the school year. These groups continue through the summer, however new students may enroll for the summer beginning in June. Each group includes two to four students and meets for an hour, once a week, under the supervision of a nationally certified speech-language pathologist. Each treatment session includes:

  • Gathering – Three to five minutes of open talk time.
  • Group Lesson – Social cognitive strategies and social thinking lessons.
  • Practice/Unstructured Time – This could include an “open topic” discussion among group members. During this time, the therapist provides feedback to reinforce the lesson.
  • Parent Wrap Up – Parents gather while the therapist reviews the group’s lesson. If parents are unable to attend, we arrange for them to receive feedback either via email, phone calls or face-to-face monthly conferences.

Methods Used

  • Role Play or Guided Practice
  • Activities and Games
  • Video and Visual Support
  • Social Storiesä  Scripts
  • Homework and Parent Tips
  • Positive Reinforcement

Promoting desirable behaviors

While the program explores a wide range of topics, some central lessons include:

  • Non-verbal communication
  • Initiating conversations/Small talk
  • Problem solving and negotiating
  • How their behavior impacts others
  • Emotional regulation and self control
  • Group dynamics/How to “fit in”
  • Understanding abstract language
  • Thinking flexibly
  • Perspective-taking
  • Understanding hidden social rules

Lessons by Age Group

  • Lower Elementary:

    • Focus is on social interaction and non-verbal play
    • Observing others
    • Imitating others
    • Making “smart guesses” about others’ intentions
    • What is “expected” and “unexpected” for social behaviors
  • Upper Elementary:

    • Interacting with and relating to others
    • Organizational skills
    • Visual organizational systems to help conceptualize both social interactions and academic work
    • Time management
    • Making “smart guesses” about others’ intentions
    • What is “expected” and “unexpected” for social behaviors across contexts
  • Middle School:

    • Self-esteem
    • Organization
    • “Reading” body language and non-verbal cues
    • Expected behaviors for middle school
    • Inferring “hidden rules” of social behavior
  • High School:

    • All of the aforementioned skills
    • Social networking
    • Self-advocacy
    • Acquaintances versus good friends
    • Holding thoughts and not interrupting others
    • “Social Fakes”, or feigning interest and asking questions
    • Reading between the lines of what people say
    • Understanding and responding to new social situations

Expected vs. Unexpected

Students are taught that verbal and nonverbal actions have consequences in terms of how other people think about us. “Expected” actions can generate good thoughts, and “unexpected” actions can generate weird thoughts.

What to Keep In and What to Let Out

Students are taught that certain types of knowledge/ opinions should stay in one’s head and certain types of knowledge/opinions can be shared with others.

We have found that these methods of teaching social thinking increase the occurrence of desirable social behaviors outside the therapy room. Over time, students learn how their social behaviors can influence others’ thoughts and actions.

Why Social Thinking® is Different

Social Skills group therapy incorporates repetition and positive reinforcement, behavioral modification methods that have been proven to be effective for children with autism.  Additionally, Social Skills group therapy addresses the thought processes behind social interactions, which helps children and adults carryover and apply social skills to new contexts and environments.

How To Enroll Your Child

We require an application and pre-group interview for all new students to determine whether they can benefit from our services.  We ask parents/caregivers to provide recent copies of all medical and diagnostic reports that are relevant to the student’s academic behavioral and language abilities, as well as an IEP or 504 plan, if available.  To begin the application process, please click on the link to fill out the appropriate forms.

You can fax the forms to (609) 924-6563, or mail them to:

Princeton Speech-Language & Learning Center
19 Wall Street
Princeton, NJ  08540

Our director will contact you once your forms have been received and reviewed. If space is available, we will set up a pre-group consultation.  If there is no space available, your child will be put on a waiting list until there is an appropriate fit for your child.  If we determine that your child can benefit from our services, we will place your child in an age-appropriate group with children who have similar abilities and needs.   

If you would like to learn more about how our Social Thinking® Groups can help your child, please call us today (609) 924-7080 or email at

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