Social Thinking and Learning in the Adult World

Day 2 of Social Thinking Conference: “Skills You Need to Learn to Help You Live as an Adult” with Michelle Garcia Winner.  I share with you the concepts and ideas that she talked about today.  The way she breaks down social interactions, our need for validation, and our intentions made me very conscious in how I am interacting with others.  For more information about Social Thinking, visit

Today’s take home message was, “Good intentions aren’t good enough!”  Adults have good intentions and sometimes language or behavior are not interpreted as meaning well.  Thus, we have to continue to work on the four steps of communication: 1. Thinking about others and what they are thinking about us. 2. Establishing a physical presence. 3. “Thinking with our eyes” 4. Using language to relate to others.  People with a social learning challenge may communicate with neurotypicals and believe their intentions are good.  Neurotypical people may find them rude and avoid them.  Because of their lack of awareness, people with the social learning challenges think the rest of the world are idiots.

Neurotypicals have social emotional responses based on how we perceive others are treating us.  We are judging people based on how they make us think and feel.  The best way to gain approval is to show you are interested in who we are as people.  The biggest compliment we provide to others is our attention. (Wow!)  We are more likely to have positive emotions about people who demonstrate they appreciate us beyond the data we have to share.  Sometimes neurotypicals want to be left alone; we do not always want to socialize.  We are ego-centric and a bit paranoid, so we often think a person’s intentions are not good, even if they were.

Strengths and Weaknesses
It is good to be aware of one’s strengths and weakness.  An indirect way to discuss it is: “what does  your brain make easy for you?” (strengths) and “what does your brain make hard for you?” (weaknesses).  People are quite honest if they have self-awareness and will give it a number on a scale of  1 to 10 with 10 being the highest strength.

Independence redefined: mostly consistent sleep patterns, nutrition and medication, hygiene, thinking about how to get organized, making yourself do things you don’t really want to do, and learning new information.  Adult living requires more than good grades, we need to focus on chores while still living at home.  Chores teach community responsibility and to learn basic living skills for independence.

ILAUGH Model of Social Thinking

L=Listening with eyes and brain
A=Abstracting and inferencing (code behavior and interpret)
U=Understanding perspective
G=Getting the big picture (Gestalt)
H=Humor and human relationships

Human Validation
As humans, we crave validation, for someone to know we exist.  In the school system, teachers and other students notice you and you are accounted for.  Once we are in the adult world, we are not accounted for and only registered in the systems.  A person with social challenges may only talk to two people for years and no one else knows his existence. Watch the video below to learn more about how they feel.

Human Connection
A person with social challenge has a good perception of what they think and feel about others.  They have a weak perception of what others think and feel about them.  They have difficulty connecting their social emotional experience to ours.  It is reasonable to have thoughts about others because it is essential to our survival and safety.  We should be aware of others to stay safe.  We also all need to be acknowledged.  If people treat us badly, we think they are insensitive and we presume this comes from them thinking we lack real value in some ways.

Emotional Expression Compression
As a child, we are expected and allowed to express our emotions, throw tantrums, and have huge meltdowns.  As we grow older, we evolve in learning to regulate our emotions in public and with others.  We cannot express it at the degree we feel.  To be socially appropriate, we are expected to minimize how we express our larger emotions, Michelle calls it: Emotional Expression Compression.  We can think our extreme emotions and have to keep at an “I am okay” or “I am fine” line.

Size of Problem and Size of Reaction
We teach children that the size of the problem relates to the size of the reaction.  If the problem and the resulting emotion matches in size, then no bigger problem is created.  We teach children that if the emotional reaction is larger than the initial problem, then a different problem is created.  We teach adults that the size of the problem should be expressed in a smaller way.  When expressed in a smaller way, people are willing to help solve the problem.  As an adult, if you don’t compress the size of your emotional response, you get into trouble.

Small Talk
Small talk shows an intention to communicate.  It is not about the language, someone is showing interest in you and trying to validate you by wanting to talk to you.  Small talk is not about maintaining one thought.  It is about showing intention to communicate.

Expected Behavior and Unexpected Behavior
Expected behavior leads to how others read the intentions of your behavior to how others feel about what they perceive to how they then provide consequences for their feelings to how you feel about how they treat you.  It is the same for sequence for unexpected behaviors.  A connection is that when you show expected behavior, you feel good and others feel good.  When you show unexpected behavior, you feel bad and they feel bad.  For example, it is expected to greet someone when you see them.  They feel good when you greet them.  If you don’t, they feel weird about you and bad about themselves.

Relationships Beyond Friendships
Relationships require advance lessons: reading intentions/taking their perspective, emotional regulation, showing emotional interest in partner, taking the time to explore other’s emotions, social fake, and cognitive flexibility.  Flirting requires extra perception of intentions and rejections, language, and both parties need to be equally interested.  People feel good about the fact that you show interest in their day.  It validates your partner by demonstrating that you value their unique thoughts and feelings.

At the end of the day, people want to feel valued and validated.  A simple greeting and asking of “How was your day?” even if you do not care for the answer, makes someone feel connected.  Go make someone’s day, they will feel good and you will feel good. 🙂


About Hilary Yip

Music Therapy. Martial Arts. Rowing/Coxswain. Creative Movement.
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