Hi everybody. My name is Ali Arena. My background is in educational psychology, speech therapy and behavior analytics, but I, what I really, really love is all things social, you know, how to handle kind of quirky language sometimes, how to help children make better friendships, how to navigate friendships. All of that. That is my favorite stuff to talk about. 

And I found out about social thinking, which is sort of just a form of therapy that you can use. I always use it in supplements with other things. A few, actually, probably 10 years ago. It’s not a few years ago and I’ve been using parts of it and therapy for a long time. And I really like it because it’s just functional. It’s a lot about what’s really happening in language. And then I really like to talk to families about improv because we all can model being flexible right and going the flow, and it’s just a nice way to kind of have some tools to know that you could do that.

What Is Social Thinking

Okay. So let’s go to our next slide. So social thinking. What it is, is it’s literally what we do when we interact with others. And that is really weird that it’s typed it twice. I’m so sorry about that. I will edit that, but it literally is what we do. Right? We are always social thinking when we’re in conversation.

So what I mean by that is as I’m talking, you’re all looking at me. Some of you are nodding your head. Like I can see that you’re giving me social cues. You’re listening. You’re seeing like, oh, does what she’s saying? Even apply to my child or my life. Right. That’s social thinking. I’m just constantly taking in what’s happening. It’s how we think about others and how we determine who they are in our life. 

So if you think about your life you probably have acquaintances, friends, family, right. And you treat all of those people differently based on how close you are and sort of what you’re allowed to say to them for, we can’t go yell at ’em a librarian. Right. I give kids that example pretty often. And then it’s also how we figure out how to talk to and what not to talk about. So there are certain topics that you just can’t talk about with people. Like I work with a student now who is constantly divulging his parents secrets and they’re not big. It’s nothing bad that he’s not, but it’s just stuff. I shouldn’t know, like mommy yelled at daddy because he’s eating way too many sweets and he’s getting fat. Like, I shouldn’t know that. Right. So just stuff on like what we can say and what we can’t say. Okay. And then it’s also how we react to our words, behaviors, and ideas.

So I know everyone has experienced this. You had an idea before, but you didn’t necessarily act on it because you might’ve had impulse control. Right. Or you thought something about someone, but you didn’t really say you had an idea. So again, social thinking is sort of how you’re regulating yourself in conversation and what you’re picking up on other people that’s important. And then when you start to do that, when you start to say, okay, I’m going to learn about this person. I’m going to think about myself. I’m able to modify what we say and how we act based on other people’s reactions. 

So a big thing that I do with the students I work with is talk to them about. Let’s say you’re talking to me and I started just like going like this and I look so bored. And so I talked to him about like, how would you modify what you’re doing? Would you keep talking about Minecraft for another 20 minutes? Or would you maybe say, Ali, did you want to talk about something else? Did you have a question? Are you bored? Right. But to do that, you would first have to notice my reaction. So social thinking again, helps people identify what is the other person showing? What am I doing with my body and how are they interpreting it? And then how do we do this, this talking thing in between?

So social thinking is what we do even when we don’t interact with others. And what I mean by that is we’re constantly taking in the world, right? We’re either watching TV shows, movies, YouTube, video games. We’re always taking things in. So I tell family to use those. Meaning let’s say, I have a lot of kids right now and I’m in Los Angeles. So this might not be as popular in Australia, but a lot of kids on Netflix are watching this show called Malibu 911, and it’s kind of like a bunch of teenagers that are lifeguards in Malibu and there’s typical teenage drama, right? There’s like the cool kids. These kids are at the, not as cool kids and they there’s all this drama. So I use this show a lot for parents to talk about what their kid’s right to use it and say like, hey, do you understand why that bully is laughing? Cause a lot of the times the kids that I work with don’t they kinda miss it. They’re just laughing because other people are right. 

So we can always be trying to explain the social world more explicitly, even when we’re doing something like watching a show. I actually really like shows with laugh tracks because like friends or boy meets world, because I noticed a lot of the young adults I work with, like I was saying would just laugh, but they don’t, they didn’t actually know why it was funny. And a lot of the times jokes are funny because there’s a history, right? Like we laugh at Rachel and friends, cause she’s always ridiculous and talking about shopping, but if you just looked at her in one scene, it’s not as funny. 

So again, teaching our kids and our students to think about how someone’s history can sometimes play into why something’s funny and, and what we can learn about them socially. So same things. Looking at reading books, characters, the movies, the plots, just trying to break down what’s happening here. 

Social thinking even happens when or waiting in the lunch line. We’re at the library. We’re picking our nose, right? If I’m picking my nose, I’m unintentional. Well, I guess maybe unintentionally, because I think no one’s looking, I’m saying to people, hey, I’m comfortable picking my nose or I’m, I’m dirty kind of right. Again, a lot of the students that I work with to them they’re like, but I had a booger and I picked my nose, why is that about anyone else? But really, even though your action wasn’t meant to signify, I’m dirty. It showing people that. 

So again, helping them see that their actions can get interpreted, even if they don’t want them. They didn’t think they were going to be. The waiting in the lunch line I always bring up because one of the students I work with he was always like, I want friends, I just want friends so bad. Like no one wants to be my friend. He was so upset. And so we started talking about his day and it was pretty apparent that he kind of just stood with his head down, reading a book at all times. So either at a table in the lunch line in homeroom. And so I had to explain to him, you’re actually giving the signal. Like, I don’t want to talk to you. I’m really into my book. And he was under the assumption that someone would, can come up to him and ask him about the book. He was like, I don’t understand why no one’s asking me about this.

So these little things that might seem super obvious to us, it’s really helpful to just be curious and ask a lot of questions. And I know there’s such a debate on video games or not video games. And I totally hear that. I don’t think we should be on screens all day, but even Minecraft, like I’ve gotten so much information from the kids I work with because they’ll explain it to me and I still won’t get it. And the reason I don’t get it is they’re explaining it from the way they play the game. Not the whole context of what this game means or how you get to the finish line or anything like that. Right. They’ll just explain their experience. 

Social Thinking And ImprovisationSo using something like that, you can ask them a lot of questions to help them start to think. Oh, just because I’m having this thought in this experience doesn’t mean other people are, and it doesn’t mean they can fill in that information. So it’s helping them see again, like there’s more perspectives and people need more information. Social thinking is also when you, I’m sure we’ve all thought this to ourselves in our head right. Are we talking too much? Are we talking too little? Are we not on topic? Are we being self-centered or being repetitive? Are we not acknowledging and complementing, oh my goodness. Last words there. And are we making smart guesses? 

So a smart guests is, let’s say I was sitting here and I had my phone. I had my key. And I’ve asked students before, like what do you think that saying to you? And the smart guests might be, oh, you’re ready to leave. Right? You have to go to your car. It’s time to go. A non-smart smart guess, which I’ve totally gotten is, you really want to buy a new car. So you’re holding your keys. You can think about cars in the future. Right. So see how just teaching them something like I’m seeing something that people do over and over. What does that mean? Or if I’m holding, I do this sometimes I’ll just hold water and I’ll be like, what do you think I’m about to do? Most of them will say, oh, you want to take a drink of water. But some are like, I don’t know. You’re just holding your water. Like, they’re not seeing that there’s an intention with action. So again, just helping break down these small things, it’s being really curious because what I noticed. The older a kid gets, even if they miss social cues all along, there’s still this assumption.

Like there’s no way they’re missing that. Like they must understand these somewhat like simple things. And a lot of times it’s really helpful to sit there and break it down with them. Sometimes for commenting and acknowledging, I’ll do an activity for called ask versus tell. So I have a lot of students who are tellers. They want to tell me everything. They give me all the information about their interests, which I’m normally genuinely interested in getting all that information or have students who ask me at time. So like, Ali, what you do this weekend? Okay. Who was there? What kind of dog do you have? How old your dog has your dog? Every in, I dunno, a specific dog food, right? They’ll just ask. 

So conversation though is a back and a forth. So a lot of times I’ll literally write down on a piece of paper, like I’ll tally for them, how many questions they asked me and how many times they just said something like, oh, I noticed you’re wearing glasses today. Actually had a student do that today. And it made me so happy. He like noticed I don’t normally wear glasses. He noticed it. He commented. But just again, helping kids know that you can’t just always tell what you’re interested in and you can’t just only ask questions. There’s a back and forth with that. 

Are there any questions I just want to stop and see everyone’s face? Cause I know I’m saying a lot. So did anyone have a specific question? They can put it in the chat or come off. Whatever works. Yeah. Go ahead. 

Signs That A Child Might Be Struggling With Social Thinking

I’m just wondering how a parent would know if their kiddo might be struggling with social thinking, what are some telltale signs they could look for? 

Yeah, that’s a really good point. I probably should have started with that. So again, these are gonna be kids that, you’re hearing maybe comments from parents. Like they’re not having as many play dates with them or they’re getting sent home for something. So I was just talking to someone. And her son got sent home because he, to him, you always use goggles when swimming. And so I guess at school with COVID, they weren’t allowing you to use goggles. And he really, he was so upset. He ended up hitting someone. He pursed it, his teacher, like he really had a hard time. So students, so kids who you’re like, you seem fine and then this is happening. Like you’re having a huge reaction over something I wouldn’t think would be a big deal.

Also I would say any kid who’s struggling with a really good sign. That social thinking is hard as someone who struggles a lot with reading and writing, meaning like they, they have a really hard time telling a story with the perspective of the other person. That’s a really good indication. 

Any other questions? No. Okay. All right. Go ahead Blanca. Oh, I think you’re muted. There we go. 

Sorry. I had to make a phone call, so I only just joined in as you started recording. It’s really interesting it’s the first time I’ve seen you explained the perspective where they might not be able to they’re laughing, but cause I’ve noticed both my kids are suspected to be on the spectrum. My son is diagnosed with several things. My daughter I’m trying to get her diagnosed before she turned seven. So we can get her help, but they’re very, very different. 

And I’ve noticed that with my daughter, she rambles when she talks, but there’s no direction. When it’s my son, he’s like the example you just gave that he’s, you know, he goggles, he has to have, if you go swimming, you have to have goggles. And if someone says, no, he absolutely flips his leg and goes berserk and it’s true. Like you said, it’s trying to explain that, you know, it’s hard for him because he’s very moral orientated. Yes. Just stick to the rules. My daughter is the complete opposite. Right. So I just want to say thank you because it’s given me a more of a different approach to approach both my kids, rather than not knowing what to do with my daughter and putting all my eggs in one basket with my son. So I thank you for that.

Well, good. No, I’m happy that’s helpful. And I think you brought up a really good point. I like social thinking a lot too, because a lot of the kids we work with and I’m sure people can relate to this it’s that black and white, like this or that. And I like what you said, moral thinking cause I have a lot of kids who are just like, no, that person is dumb. If they actually think, you know, the world is flat or something, right. Like that’s a little extreme, but it’s really hard for them to understand how you could possibly have a different perspective, especially on something that’s supposed to be an obvious rule.

So I really like this too, because it’s within the program. Like we really talk about perspective and we talk a lot about, you know, the difference between being right and also just wanting to connect with someone. That’s higher level. I would do that more with like a 20 year old, but there’s a difference there, right? We can all do this, even, probably in our romantic relationships, we can either be like, right. Or we can try to get to a collaborative place. So social thinking also looks at that. 

Activity Ideas

Some activity ideas. Okay. So like, I’ve been saying one of the big things in social thinking is perspective taking. So literally just the thought that my thoughts are not the same as other people’s and that sounds kind of basic and maybe. But I really, really found a lot of the students I work with it’s not. They genuinely didn’t know that it’s not from a place of self-centeredness. It’s not that they just truly didn’t understand that another person’s brain wouldn’t see the exact same situation in the same way. Probably due to the fact that they have black and white thinking, right? So it should be the same. 

So one even helping them see that people have different thoughts is really important. And then this really matters for when you’re making any group plan or group work. So a lot of students I work with younger, older, they’ll start just changing the activity. And they’ve never made it known that they want to change this. Right. They never let anyone know. Oh, now, you know, we’re doing pretend play now. We’re going to the vet. So then someone comes in and they’re still on the shopping mall scheme. And this kid is upset now because it’s like, no, you’re not doing what you’re supposed to.

So we talk a lot about forming whatever the group plan is and getting on the same page about this. So this same thing could be applied to we’re going away on holiday and I’ve heard this from a lot of parents. A child will just assume, well, last time I was on an airplane, I got to watch like eight hours of movies. Well, this way it’s only six and they already planned out that they’re watching four TV shows. So you just really disrupted that. So it’s again, going over, what is the plan for this? And what’s gonna, what works for everyone in the group? 

Additionally, like traveling, you know, if we’re all in a group, we have to follow what everyone in the group is doing. I’ve heard from a lot of parents too like they take their child to the airport and their kids over at the bathroom or checking out a lot of kids, I work with love the conveyor belt. So they went to go see that with the suitcases and didn’t check in and they’ve left the group. So again, talking about what a group is and what is the plan. 

So problem solving and flexibility. All this is setting up activities where they do have to problem solve, right? So let’s say we’re at their. And we’re supposed to go to terminal five, but it’s closed. We have to go to terminal six and we have to walk back around. Right. We still have to fly at a terminal five. That entrance is closed. How can we solve this? So going over plans with them, I think it’s just really important to over communicate with their child. If they tend to have black and white thinking or predisposition to be a little anxious about change again, what are ways we can do this together and coming up with a plan around it?

I just wanted to touch upon, I think most people here have probably heard the term executive functioning, but social thinking activities again are really good for executive functioning. And what that means is it’s our planning, right? It’s our planning and organizing centers and if you tend to only plan when you’re in isolation and you’re on your own, right? So if you make your to-do list on your own in the morning, and don’t consider the fact that like traffic happens, your family might need something from you. You might not be able to get to a place that you thought you’re going to get really frustrated.

So again, helping your child, talking with them about what is their expectations. Let’s see how we can fit in the times and helping them understand how long something’s going to take. That is a skill. I work a lot with young adults and that’s a skill they really, they really struggle with. So using stuff like I know, autism 360 talks about this a lot, but visual timers making time as visual as humanly possible, and even talking with them about, oh, look, that’s 30 minutes. So it took you 30 minutes to do that. So maybe next time you do math homework will only sit for 30 minutes because that’s how long it took you. 

Another thing that’s part of social thinking and activity that I do pretty often is setting up what’s expected and unexpected. And I normally try to be funny and go like extreme. So again, if we’re at the airport, I might be like, what’s something unexpected to do at the airport. And that would be to like scream bomb. Right. That’d be really bad. No one should do that. And that’s actually happening. That would be the extreme right of this is super unexpected, it would result in consequences that are good.

So again, just helping them see like, okay, what are things that I can’t do at an airport as well? Like Kimberly like scream that might be, I can’t walk away from my family. I can’t necessarily get up and go to the bathroom when I want on the airplane. I have to wait for the certain the seatbelt sign to change. And then what are some expected behaviors it’s expected that you’re going to get to watch TV for three hours straight, which is awesome. How often do you get to do that? Right? Or it’s expected that you get to pick a snack on the airplane, whatever that is helping kids understand the unexpected and expected.

And again, this is all just trying to go back to making things as literal, concrete as possible. So they’re able to then make a decision around what works for them. Right. And you can have a conversation about it as opposed to they made the decision. They have a plan. And then you aren’t following the plan. They’re very upset or the teacher didn’t follow the plan they thought was going to happen. And they’re very upset looking at function and context. So this one can be a little, this is a little higher level, but you know, like it’s if you maybe wind when you were younger, you might’ve gotten attention, right?

So the function of whining as you got attention, you were younger. If I put the context on your 16 and whining, you’re going to get attention, but you’re going to get attention in the way of people are going to be. What’s wrong with you, right. And it’s a different type of attention. So, but for some of the kids I work with attention is just attention. So they’re not seeing that their behaviors become a different function. Like, yeah, they got attention, but they’re not getting the attention they were looking for. And that the context was different. 

And then Ella had brought up before she was asking what is a good student that might really benefit from social thinking. And again, it’s a lot of kids who are struggling with that academic, like I have one student right now they’re on word problems in math. And to understand a word problem, you have to kind of understand the context of. They’re going from this place to this place. It takes this long. So I have to be able to imagine these two places and sift through what’s important. 

So that’s also sometimes really difficult for our kids, right? Like what actually matters about this paragraph? I don’t need to memorize the whole paragraph. I have to figure out what’s important. And this is something I would do kind of re repetitively with a student to help them understand what’s important because if I just give them a direction, do this word problem. That can be really hard, right? Well, what do you mean? Like how do I do it? Like, do you need me to highlight what’s important? Do I have to show my work? Can I just give you my answer? Can I verbally tell you, do I have to write it again? So you can add in what’s expected and unexpected for academic assignments so they understand.

Okay. So last thing is I kind of talked about this as well, but just at home. I love using videos, pictures, even from when they were younger. And you’re having them sort of tell a story about that or seeing if they remember things it’s just another really good way to get the social language. Also, what do we talk about socially? What we’ve done and what we like. So helping kids and reminding them, oh yeah. I actually do have stuff to talk about. They hear that so much from my teenagers. Well, I’m boring or I’m lonely and I’m like, you’re not boring at all. You tell me cool things every time we talk that I’m genuinely interested in.

So I have something called like a friend file for each of the students that I work with. And I write down all the things that I know about them and that are, that I think are really cool and fun topics and I keep that for them. So they have a reference if they’re ever, like, I don’t know what I’m supposed to talk about. I also have them do that for me. So they all have, I’ll just call them Ali files. I’m sure there could be a better name, but something simple. They know that I’m a woman. They also know that I just got married and I have a dog. Right. So now if they want it, they can ask me questions about my dog. They also know that I like elephants, so they could ask me questions about, elephants.

I also do an activity with them where I might say, what do you know about a person just by looking at them or looking in their environment? Like I have a lot of pictures. And I often do that because I have a little, I actually have a little elephant tattoo and a lot of them never, ever notice it and nuns, once they do, they go, oh, that means you like elephants. So a lot of people have these little cues that they’re not thinking to look for. 

So again, a picture like a still frame is a really good way for them to talk about stuff they’ve done. Learn more about people in their life just by looking at them. And I also really like the freeze-frame video. Okay. So you’re watching a show, any show they like, and you’re stopping it and asking him, asking your child, what is his face telling. Right. So like I’m thinking of friends again, they’re all very animated actors. They’re always doing big things with their face, their hands. You’re trying to get at what are the nonverbal cues? These PR people are giving. Right? And then you can even take it a step further. What information can you gather about these people? So if they’re all sitting in a coffee shop, We know they like coffee. We might know they live in New York. Right. 

So helping them in one, just one part really quick of the show, they’re watching, take it and dissect what’s happening. And I would suggest doing that if you can daily, but just keep it short. So they’re not like, oh, mom and dad are gonna come pause my show and I’m going to have to explain it to them just really short and quick. And then the other thing to think about. A lot of kids don’t actually know how to email or text or do note taking this is another area. I’d really say that it’s important to like, think about explicitly talking about and using some of those principles of social thinking. Like, can my child take perspective and do they understand what the other person’s thinking? Does my child know what’s expected and unexpected in these instances? Does my child have a script they can go back to and think about of ways to, to email. Right? So just thinking about all these things to make it easier.

Another thing I have a lot of the people I work with do is start getting really familiar with the weather app. So again, social thinking is being aware of your world. So many kids I work with. I have no idea what the weather’s going to be, how are they going to feel? But like by 15, we want them to be able to look at a weather app and maybe get dressed for what’s going to be appropriate for the day. Right. Or if they’re making plans over the weekend and it’s going to torrentially downpour all weekend. That’s not going to work if they want it to go hiking. So again, just having them get familiar with looking at something like this. So they’re just aware daily of, oh, that’s the weather today. It’s a simple skill, but I’ve really seen it help a lot of students.

I wanted to go over an activity. Let’s say we’re going to go bowling. Okay. When you think about bowling, you’re kind of like, all right, let’s just go bowling. But actually there’s a lot that happens in bowling. You typically have to order food, right? So you might have to go over, well, how do I even order food? How do I order the shoes? What is my shoe size? Right. These are ways to help to prepare your child. So it’s not just like I get there and I’m like, I think, how do you handle if there’s people in the other lane and maybe they’re in your way, right? What’s a lane etiquette? Are you allowed to be stepping into their person’s lane? How do you ask for help if you need it? Right. Who would you even go to if you needed help? Do you go back to the front desk? Do you ask your friend? Hygiene. 

So I used to do bowling outings all the time, and some of the kids I worked with had like black socks. They were so dirty. Right. And I am still not blaming the families. I can associate these kids being like, I’m not changing these socks, but what was really nice is all these kids were super close and I was able to show them like, dude, they think you’re dirty. They don’t want it. They’re like grossed out by these socks. So what hygiene is going to be revealed, people are going to see your socks. People, if you maybe have stinky feet might smell them. Right. What do you want to wear in a bowling alley? Bowling on was can get kinda hot, right? So maybe you’re wearing a jacket that you could take off. You don’t want to wear, I did a bowling one time and I had a student where like really, really, really tight leggings and they ripped and they were mortified, obviously. So just again, but these seem simple, but thinking about how all these activities come together and how much money do you need to go bowling? Like what, what do you need, how do you pay? 

The last thing is too, so I notice a lot when kids go bowling, They don’t really say their name up there. Like, it’s not like Ali’s bowling. They normally do like a funny name. So sometimes I’ll rehearse with a kid, what’s a funny name that we could use for you. Right. And have them be ready so they’re not on the spot. And then I also talk about though, well, what if you get there and everyone just uses their real name. Should you use the funny name or your real name? So again, just prepping them for what could be happening and all of this is one to help them take in their environment and understand that there are so many little cues that are happening all the time, but two, it reduces a lot of anxiety. 

So again, I work with a ton of young adults that their anxiety, they really, really talk about their anxiety of doing things new because they don’t understand how it’s supposed to work in there and they’re scared they might look stupid or they might do something wrong or so just breaking it down and then I’m going to go into this with improv, but as always, like, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone does something kind of weird once in a while. Right. I talked to him a lot about that. Like, people don’t typically remember if you ask them a silly question, they get over that. So I also try to diminish anxiety in that way. 

Non-Verbal Social Fun Communication

So another thing, how I was kind of talking about noticing nonverbal cues, right. If we’re watching a show, is I really like stuff. These are just easy activities. So I teach a lot of kids thumbs up or thumbs down because they can do it kind of subtly to me. And it just takes off the cognitive load of having to say, like, I like this, I don’t like this. Like, they can just really subtly tell me it. I love having kids make silly emotion faces in the mirror, very innocently, so they can learn what their face looks like when they’re making an emotion. Right. So we’ll really exaggerate them and then I’ll try to get them as natural as possible cause I still have some kids on, are you feeling happy and they go, yeah, I’m really happy because they’ve seen that on a movie or something. And they thought that was the way to show happy and it’s not that that’s bad. It’s just, it’s going to draw attention to them that they might not want because they might not actually be, you know, level 20 happy they might just be feeling okay. 

I like this just look for something red, blue. So I love an activity where kids have to be scanning. So can you find anyone that’s wearing a blue shirt? Can you find anyone, you know, with red pants, it’s just, again, having kids notice their environment and the people in it. I like this to look for license plates. Other than California, you can tell I live here but just look for again, like driving sometimes we’re so bored while driving, giving them an activity where they just have to pay attention for X amount of time. Maybe it’s fine for license plates from a different state. It’s another way to just increase attention and get them looking around. 

Another one I really recommend for families when they’re driving is to have kids think of kids or young adults, like think of 10 foods, think of 10 animals, and then you can expand it. Oh, what’s your favorite food? And like, where do you like to go to eat? Because those are questions they might get at. And sometimes kids get really tripped up. They’re like, I don’t have a favorite food so we can change it and say like, okay, what are three foods you really like to? You don’t have to tell me your absolute favorite. That’s okay. But it’s kind of rehearsing that before. They’re sort of put on the spot with someone else and the same thought, you know, talking about like, what are things that you like and what are things that you don’t like again, seems like it should be really obvious, but sometimes kids are really hard time articulating numerous things that they like, and don’t like, they kind of get stuck in, like, I don’t know. I like Minecraft. And like, I don’t really like sports. And then once they kind of box themselves into those two things, it’s really hard to be like, oh, you should try this new thing. And they’re like, Nope, I don’t like sports. I’m not doing it. I only like Minecraft, so they won’t do other things. 

And then, like I was saying before, it’s just really important as a parent, make mistakes, be silly. Own your mistakes, right? We’re going to get into that and improv, but again, like, so often I have kids who are anxious and kind of perfectionist, and they’re so scared they’re going to do something wrong. Truth is we all make mistakes constantly, probably daily. We’re making a mistake. Right? So I do a lot of talking to the students I work with, like, this is the mistake I made today, flat out telling them. So they’re hearing that someone else is doing okay. 


Last big part of social thinking is a thinking about some idioms that your child might be hearing. So like, hey, hang on. Like, let’s cool. It chill out. Like give it your best shot. Are you on the ball? Like wrap it up. I worked with a girl on site. That she was like, oh my gosh, he’s so hot. But she did it like she was talking about her gym teacher. That’s not what she was trying to say. He was like, cool. But she didn’t understand how this was being used. So talk literally like asking your kids sometimes, like, do you know what that means and checking in because sometimes they might have. Yeah, I know what it means. And then they, they really might be missing that. I feel like people are moving away from this a little bit, but people use jargon, idioms all the time. My students would be like, I don’t know what they’re saying or like something like chill out. Some of the students I work with hate hearing that they can stop. That makes no sense. Like, how do you want me to chill out? I’m already really stressed out by like, I’m already really frustrated. 

So talking to them about like, all right, you might dislike the phrase, but what’s that person really getting at? Why are they saying that? Is there a different way you want someone to say that to you and what can you still do in that circumstance?

And so Michelle Garcia Winner, who was the creator of social thinking, she says before you act and speak socially, you need to be able to think socially. So I just want to say all of you, thank you for keeping your eyes, your body and your brain in the group. Meaning none of you walked away. You all were looking at me. I could tell you’re listening. You were nodding your head, right? You before you even can talk, you have to be able to think and take in the world socially. I think that’s really important to think about. 

And I really like this is William Glasser’s just a famous linguistics researcher, but he talks about how we learn 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, and 70% of what we discuss with others. So again, It is really important to make sure they’re seeing it and they’re hearing it, but it’s also really helpful to have a discussion with someone so they can really integrate it and understand that’s important.

What Is Improvisation

So improv, I don’t know if anyone watched the office. This is Michael from the office who apparently improv majority of the show. So the reason I like to have social thinking and improv together as a kind of was just talking about. You need to sh you need structure. You’re kind of, over-communicating, you’re giving them a lot, but, and that is all very important. I just also don’t want parents to feel like they have to be rigid then and explain everything and never be flexible, because it is really important to be flexible. Improv right as the act of improvising. And it’s being summarized as being in the moment and responding to unexpected situations in a way that makes use of an individual’s strength while also connecting with the world around them.

So this is really important because even if you prep your kid for everything, something unexpected, still going to happen, there’s no way you can avoid it. And a lot of the kids I work with. When I first started improv with them, like, oh my God, you’re so annoying. I couldn’t actually happen. That’s not real, but others eventually they kind of give in and they’re like, okay, all right, fine. I can get over this. Like, I’ll move past this a little bit quicker. So it’s just a strategy to help them feel a little bit more relaxed and to feel less rigid. So the way I use improv a lot, we’re going to play a game at the end is like, I’m just silly. I say things that. Or just really off base. They’re not, they don’t make sense. And I kind of have them work through the like, oh, I was so dumb with me as opposed to another peer. Right. Because again, teachers are gonna say things they think are like ridiculous friends, but if we show how annoyed we are at that person, we might actually lose the friendship. And if we’re able to kind of be more flexible and be like, oh, okay. I guess that makes sense for them, whatever and move on. It makes a big difference. 

So I’m Tina Fey also talks about, and I just really love this. I won’t read the whole quote, but like that there are no mistakes. There’s only opportunities. So I do talk a lot with my students about mistakes are opportunities, mistakes happen, mistakes are an opportunity to grow. Right. I love at the end of this and many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident, look at the Reese’s peanut butter cup or Botox. Right? So like just sort of the fact that these things that might annoy our child in the moment are really opportunities for them to either explain why they’re annoyed or think of a different solution.

You know, this, the key, all of your kids, I’m sure Ella can agree. They’re really good problem solvers when they can get to what the problem is. But a lot of the times they can’t really articulate what what’s going on and why it’s so frustrating for them. So it might take a few times there’s a mistake and we need to create a new opportunity to figure out how to work through it.

Improvisation Games

So what are improv games? So they’re just, they’re shared experiences. They facilitate organic moments. They require little to no more materials. So I love them. You can infuse them at any time. They’re created to be on the fly. They can happen in all environments. They involve problem solving and they provide a structure. So that’s the thing, improv is flexible, but there is a structure within the game you’re playing. So that’s why a lot of the kids I work. I do appreciate that. They’re like, okay, release time, me, what I have to do and it also, I really think it does instill a form of self agency because improv can be a little scary initially, right? Like you’re putting me on the spot and I have to think of these things really quickly. 

So as my students tend to get better, I do see this like confidence just come through in this self agency. What I also love about impact is sometimes I’m terrible. Like my brain’s not on, I truly am not doing the games amazingly. And I think it’s really good for them to see that it’s a nice equalizer of, hey, we’re just playing this together. And sometimes I’m not thinking of great things and sometimes you are, so it’s showing them again, like people mess up and that’s okay. Okay. 

Improviser’s Mindset

So what does an improviser’s mindset? Really simply it’s the ability to go yes and, which a lot of the students I work with struggle with. Right. So like, I don’t like Mrs. Roberts because she’s always makes us write on the board. So I might go and she does give you 10 minutes at the end of class to do whatever you want and you normally end up playing Minecraft, right? So there is this way in which someone can, you can not like them in this moment, but there is this. Yes. And they do this. I do this a lot with kids who are like, I don’t like vegetables. I’m like, yes. And they make your body feel better. And when you eat them, you normally get a treat after yet. Right. So taking anything and just kind of. Yes. And adding on, it’s also a really good skill for all adults. Right? I don’t want to do this. You could go. Yes. But when I finish it, right, I get to reward myself. Maybe, however you want to say it, but it’s, it’s a really good skill for all of us to kind of think like all of our thoughts aren’t just one statement you can always add an and or a butt and keep going.

I think it’s because in our show, you guys have been doing this a lot longer than Americans, so you didn’t need a whole collaboration, but it’s literally just a collaborative for the academic, social and emotional learning. So we are finally now putting more social and emotional learning in school. And improv is actually a big part of that that’s coming around, especially in LA, just because everyone here, you know, Hollywood and improv, but it’s in a lot of schools. 

Core Qualities Of Improvisation

So a big core quality of improvisation is flexibility. So it’s increasing positive behavior with intentional guidance and it’s being open and observant in the moment. And it’s okay to say new choice. So sometimes I’ll say to kids, you know, like we’ll be talking and I’ve totally had kids thrown potty humor. Like I’m like, okay, everyone tell me their favorite food. And all of it could be like, And instead of being like, no, don’t say poop, I’ll be like, oh, okay. And then they might say I’m farts and then I’ll be like, oh, okay. A new choice. And then by that point, because I haven’t really given them what they’re looking for. They might be like pretzels and you’re not, you’re not like you’re not shaming them. You’re not throwing off the whole group, but I really like new choice. It’s just like new choice. Just pick something else. 

Another thing too, with flexibility. I think it’s really important for us as parents and educators to show flexibility. Right? So let’s say, I don’t know, you guys had planned a game night for Friday night and you all had really talked about how you wanted to play and then Friday night comes around and your kid really wants to play scrabble, I don’t know how many kids would really ask to play scrabble, but let’s say they really did. So you could choose to either be like, no, we talked about this game like we’re doing this game or you could use it as a moment to be like, yeah. You know what? I’m excited that you want to play this game. Let’s be flexible and change it up. So just showing flexibility. 

Another core quality of improv is receptivity. So it’s patience to allow individuals to practice the task at hand, and it’s trusted the facilitator and clients and a client or partners in the game. So it involves listening, responding, and modeling. So to do a lot of these games, you have to be present. And you have to be receptive because you would literally miss the point of the game. Right? So one of the games I play is for brain melt. And so I have two kids, they go back to back like this. And they go 1, 2, 3 brain Mount and they say a word. So let’s say, they said, I don’t know, chocolate, and I’m going to make this really easy on myself, like coffee or something. And so I’m like, okay guys, we’re going to see one, when you think of the word chocolate and coffee what word comes to your mind. So they’d have to listen to each other’s words and we go back to back again and they turn back around and they go melt. And then they both might say, hot chocolate, because that came to mind when they thought of coffee and chocolate, it never goes that quickly or that fast. But again, they wouldn’t be able to do that if they weren’t listening to each other. And these are fun, exciting games. I can send some videos maybe after Ella of like some prerecorded games that might help for people to see. Okay.

And then another core quality is adaptation. So it’s building off of the strengths of each individual. It’s confidence that you’re prepared for any situation. Like I was saying, if you get really good at improv, you can kind of adapt and use your imagination. And it’s being okay when triggers and symptoms arise and you adjust and respond to those behaviors in a thoughtful way. These are ways to use improv. So let’s play, let’s play. 

So, Ella, I’m putting on the spot. Do you mind modeling a game? I didn’t tell her at all. So I, this was not my social thinking. I didn’t prep her. So Ella, I’m going to give you a present and all you have to do is say thank you and what you would do with it. Okay. And I’m going to intentionally at first, give her something I think she might actually want. Okay. So Ella here is a huge cup of coffee. Thank you. I’m going to go read a book and drink this cup of coffee. That sounds lovely. Okay. So now I’m going to give her something I don’t think she wants and she’s not going to say no, that’s dumb. I don’t like this thing. I won’t use it. She’s going to say thank you and what she can do with it. Right. So, Ella here is, here’s a bunch of soil. 

Thank you. I might go do some gardening. 

Perfect. Right. So there, that’s a really easy, it’s literally called gift-giving. I’m going to give you a gift and you have to say, thank you, and what you do with it. And then your child or student would do it back to you. I’ll use that at the beginning of a session or I’ll sometimes do it with a parent and a child. It’s just a really silly way to get kids acquainted. I will, cause I know we’re nearing time and stuff. I will send. I have some videos of a friend of mine is huge and improv and has created some games around. So I can send some YouTube videos of it. Happenings you can kind of see in real time how you would play some of these games. I think that might be helpful, but does anyone have any questions and Ella, thank you.

Any questions, Blanca? I see your question. She’s still in here. No, no, I see her. Well, she’s not here, but she did. Yeah, I’m trying to think. What can you do as a parent when you struggle with these activities too? So I’m thinking she might mean with maybe doing improv or pointing stuff out in a video. Honestly, it might be a really good cue to say to yourself, oh, okay. I’m struggling with this. I might need support with it. Or I might need to look at like, why does this feel hard? So when I first started, I was extremely self-conscious. I was anxious. I was uncomfortable and it really showed me. Wow. I don’t have that good of a growth mindset. I am terrified of making a mistake. I really don’t like being out of control. Right. So it might identify some things in you that you might also want to be looking at. Yeah. Any other questions?

My daughter, she normally is a more range in a group is a social group. She’s more observers, always take herself back and it should always take a time to warm up, to join a group. But when she familiar with people and it, she like to be dominate. She want to do things she want to control. You know, she, wasn’t talking, talking, talking, talking. Through most of the talking back. I think it shoot it because she wants to talk. She ignore other people’s talking that make it’s hard to not to really social, to with communicate with other friends. So, yeah, that’s what, it’s harder, same, same thing at a home, you know, once you, excuse me, you got to listen to mommy talk, you know, she just want to talk whether she wanted to. So I know she’s been struggling, she got up lots of friends, which is they’re very nice. They’re very kind to her. But I think, you know, yeah. For ongoing friendship, she will be struggling because she not listen other peoples, you know, just to put her idea first thoughts to, you know, whatever she want to talking. Yeah. So in this way, what I can do to help her? 

Yeah. So you’re describing honestly, a very, you know, a type of kind of neuro-diverse communication, right. Being really, really into your special interest and wanting to share it. But I think when you could help is one make it. So before I’ve done this before with kids, and I don’t know if she would like this, so I would, this would be empty and this is actually full. And I would keep filling this with water until it’s actually going to overflow. And a lot of them talk to the point I’m going to fill this so they can kind of visually see like, whoa, I haven’t taken a breath and I’m just talking and talking and talking. 

Another thing I may do is help her see, like, I might even count on my finger, how many things she’s told me. So a lot of students I work with, I talked to them about the rule of three. Most people can retain about three things, right? So if I tell you what I did on the weekend, I kind of told you what I did Friday, Saturday, Sunday, you should be able to sort of take that in. But if, but if I told you what I did Friday, Saturday, Sunday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and who I saw, like that’s too much.

Right. So another way to do that is you could try sort of over explaining something to her and then checking into her with her and being like, did you stop listening? Did you start to get bored? So sort of just letting her know what might happen for another person. And again, it’s not about like a shaming or anything of like, you know, you’re talking too long or too, it’s so much better. Like we were seeing before, if they can like, experience what it might feel like, or if you can make it visual, because. Even me, I can’t believe I just talked for 56 minutes. That just kind of went by. Right. Cause I was in the zone. So it would have been hard if someone was like, you talked a lot. I wouldn’t, I don’t even remember what I said, you know, 15 minutes ago. Right. So it’s, if you can make it visual or you tally in some way, it helps someone see. 

Any other questions before we hop off? 

Another thing, I’m not sure if it’s just related to the social because you know, actually it’s nice. You know, every day when I pick her up at a school, she said, mommy, answer the question for me. I said, you know, you should ask me what I’m doing at a school, one of my family and what am I don’t like it. And I’ll tell you what I’m doing. In the morning, I’m doing this, this. She’s doing every day to me, I’m the school, you know, I say, sweetheart, that’s great. You know, I tried to encourage your talking, which is good and, you know, communicating with me. But you know, she always talking to me the time table. That’s a sweet time. Mommy know your timetable, you just tell me something different. But I think, you know, it’s been tricky for her, you know, she’d just stick it in the routine and doing things. 

Yeah, no. And I think she’s in a routine that also says to me, she wants to be communicating. She’s trying, she’s just trying to figure out what to do, like how to even communicate still. So what you could do is, you know, say to her like, oh, this is what you did. Let’s say, you know, she painted a picture today or something. Tell me about what you painted. Tell me what colors you use. I try to take one thing and just expand it a little bit before. You’re breaking up her kind of like listing and trying to make it a little bit more conversational. 

Yeah, that’s what I say. I said, excuse me to me that just tell my, the one scene first. Then she said, no, I’m not finished yet. She said, now might be, you can ask the question, you mad at us, so she doesn’t want to be in it all. And I teach it. I don’t. Okay. Now often is you can ask the question. 

Yeah, I think she’s how old is she going to ask? She’s 11 and a seven months. Yeah, I think she’s still just trying to figure out like, How much information I’m supposed to give and how much I’m not, what you could do is make it obvious. Like you can be like, oh, I’m sad because you’re not letting me talk. You could make it really apparent. Like I’m feeling sad or I’m feeling like I’m not allowed to say anything to sort of show her that emotion. Yeah. Yeah. 

Sometimes we do a little, like a social or just like a practice. Okay. We just ask the one question then as someone else answer, then others can take turns. So when we doing that, you know, she can yeah do few five minutes. Fine. That’s only in that particular conversation then afterwards she wanted to stick on that. She just continued on her way. 

I think. So I will send links that I’m I am sorry. I have to hop off my next, my next meeting with a client. But, I’ll I think just I’ll put social thinking links maybe in the PowerPoint when I send it over. So then people just have something, cause there’s so much, I didn’t even touch part of it. It’s just sort of an introduction into what it is. Yeah. Yeah, I hope this was actually helpful for everyone and they took something from this and that they remember, they can just, yes and right to whatever you’re doing. Yes. And. You can add to that. Okay. Thank you so much. Bye.

Social Thinking And Improvisation
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Social Thinking And Improvisation
In this video, we are joined by Ali Arena, where she discussed about social thinking and improvisation. Ali has a background in educational psychology, speech therapy, and behavior analytics.
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Autism 360
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