Instructional tools from Social Thinking: A Teacher’s Review

Ken Shyminskya former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada, draws upon his personal experiences as an teacher and student with Tourette Syndrome to help children with TS and related disorders. He also has Tourette himself and is the founder of the website Neurologically Gifted.

Social skills and social thinking are not easy for children who have neurological disorder.  Careful and intense instruction can help a child learn these skills which will improve their capacity to learn in all areas.

Before I give my support to these instructional tools, I’d like to state that I have no financial interests in this resource and receive nothing from the author or publisher.  I’ve merely used the resource and found it to be an effective tool for teaching children with behavior challenges to make positive changes in their lives.  In fact, I was so impressed with the resources, that I purchased a set for my stepson’s (self-contained behavior) classroom teacher. Using the resources together, we were able to establish common language and understanding to support my stepson’s profound behavior challenges at school and at home.

Profoundly challenged by TS, OCD and ADHD, my stepson had absolutely no self-regulation skills.  He lived his entire 10 years (at that time) “in the moment” that he was experiencing.  He’d hyper-focus on himself only, and gave absolutely no thought to future or past events or to others in any given situation.

Even if he was given candy, it would be forgotten (forever more) as soon as it was out of his sight.  He did not connect responses of other people to past events or behaviours.  Without any ability to control himself, he was unaware of “cause and effect“.  He didn’t even see “the effect”. He’d wonder why he was in trouble, react with violence, be consequenced, then move on (without learning anything to prevent recurrences).

As a special education teacher with more than 20 years of teaching experience, I can confidently state that these resources were tremendously helpful.  When challenging behaviors arose, my family members were able to identify the behavior (“You’re seem to have a bit of a Glassman acting in you” or “I’m sorry, that was a total Topic Twistermeister”).

Although there are a number of resources listed on the website, my spouse and I selected two story booklets and a teacher’s resource.  The first booklet is titled, “”You are a Social Detective”, the second is titled, Superflex”, and the teacher resource is titled, “Superflex… A Superhero Social Thinking Curriculum.”

Instructional Thinking Superflex Curriculum: Neurologically Gifted Social Thinking

Social Detective is a story in comic format.  It is geared to students in grades K-5, but given many of the children in the target audience are often less mature than their grade level peers, it may be acceptable for slightly older students.  When accompanied by student discussion and reflection, the story effectively teaches students to expand their attentional focus from egocentric to external – to encompass OTHER people rather than just themselves.

This may seem like an odd statement, but if you have experienced a student who is so affected by their disorder that they don’t know they’ve done something wrong until they are being yelled at, you’ll understand.

The Social Detective story lays the foundation for teaching students about cause and effect, to understand that other people actually think about them and what they do or say.  The Superflex story then builds on the learning gained from Social Detective.  The Superflex story uses 14 characters (villains) to personify challenging  behaviours and make students self aware.

By becoming familiar with the villains’ traits, students gain understanding through concrete concepts.  Although the story and characters are fictitious, this teaching approach is effective, especially with students with learning challenges as they are often less able to grasp abstract concepts.  The characters allow the teacher to describe and discuss abstract concepts in a concrete way.  This second book addresses self reflection, self regulation, and flexible thinking.

Instructional Thinking Superflex Curriculum: Neurologically Gifted Social Thinking

The teacher’s resource for SuperflexSuperflex… A Superhero Social Thinking Curriculum”contains three useful lesson plans,  worksheets (“funwork”), visuals and reporting tools (e.g. a Family Report Card), and a digital copies on a DVD.  The resources utilize the skills taught in the book, engaging students to reflect and apply skills.  They provide a terrific vehicle to transfer classroom learning to the home environment, which is so important to optimize successes.

The Superflex takes on the Unthinkables poster hangs at our son’s bedside.  As we settle down for the night we often refer to the unthinkables as we debrief a difficult situation that occurred during the day further entrenching his understanding of how his and others’ brains work.  As he points out when unthinkables pop into our brains during the day, he is learning and practicing his social thinking!

To view more of Michelle Garcia Winner’s resources as well as those reviewed, visit socialthinking.com.

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