Social Competency Skills and Learn Sense Grow’s Social Learning Thoughts

In 2019 and 2020 the Learn Sense Grow team travelled to Melbourne to listen to Michelle Garcia-Winner speak about her social methodology named Social Thinking®. All of our staff have since completed further professional development through the online webinars available for free or for purchase at . It has changed our perception of social skills, and has highlighted the importance of developing a child’s social awareness. To best support a child’s social skills, they first need to understand social competency skills. Since, we have integrated the 10 core Social Thinking competencies into our sessions, workshops and holiday programs, to add to our holistic practice. We teach the competencies in order as each concept requires an understanding of the previous concept. The competencies that we focus on are:

1. Thoughts and Feelings

Understanding that everybody has thoughts and feelings is the key to social awareness. Next, we teach our children that just as we can have thoughts and feelings about other people, other people can have thoughts and feelings about us. This helps to open up a child’s understanding that their actions can cause others to have thoughts and feelings about them.

2. Thinking with Your Eyes

‘Thinking with your eyes’ is based off the concept that non-verbal information communicates what we are thinking. We can then use our eyes to perceive the environment, predict what is going to happen and how other people are feeling.

3. The Group Plan

“When we are in a group of 2 or more people there is always a plan. It is our job to figure out and follow the plan”. Individuals with developmental or learning disorders often need specific instruction around what the group plan is. In this space we ask the child to ‘think with their eyes’ to try and work out the group plan.

4. Is your Body in the Group?

We teach that a group is two or more people. In a group, there are always ‘expected’ and ‘unexpected’ behaviours involving our physical presence. To allow the individual to attend to information around them and realise what their body is doing in the group, and what this is communicating to others, we teach that what our body is doing “communicates our intentions” to other people. Further, we teach “is your brain in the group?” which helps individuals who can appear to be attending to information, but are thinking about something else.

5. Whole Body Listening

Whole Body Listening is a complex competency as it involves taking on somebody else’s perspective and feelings. We teach that to do our best listening we need our eyes looking and our body facing toward the speaker, our ears both ready to hear, our mouth quiet and waiting our turn to talk, our hands quiet and kept to our self, our feet quiet and still, our brain thinking about what is being said and our heart considering the speaker and others listening.

6. Hidden Rules And Expected-Unexpected Behaviours

The terms ‘inappropriate’ and ‘appropriate’ behaviours can have the potential to denote negative emotional judgement on the person, which can bring about shame and refusal of students to further participate. Therefore, Michelle developed ‘expected’ and ‘unexpected behaviours’ to help understand these behaviours. To add to a child’s social awareness, we focus on the impact that ‘expected’ and ‘unexpected’ behaviours can have on others’ thoughts and feelings, and emotions about us.

‘Hidden rules’ are a set of behaviours that are ‘expected’ in environments, that often are not discussed, or apparent in the environment. For example, a hidden rule when visiting a library is that you use a quiet voice or whisper to speak. Although there are generally no signs and enforcers of this rule, it is a rule that is known and followed by most people. We teach children how to be aware of ‘hidden rules’ and how to ask about ‘hidden rules’ in unfamiliar environments.

7. Smart Guess

Our aim is to teach individuals that they can make ‘smart guesses’ to encourage using what we see, hear and know to figure things out. Making a ‘smart guess’ is important not only to determine how others are feeling or to guess the ‘group plan’, as it is also required for self-regulation. An individual is required to understand what behaviours are expected/unexpected, how that makes others feel to make a ‘smart guess’ about how they can regulate appropriately.

8. Flexible and Stuck Thinking

For the individuals that we support, the skills required to socially engage and share space with others all start with flexibility (to consider other’s mindset, context, emotions, perspectives). We teach what flexible thinking is, and how it can be used in a variety of different scenarios. We place importance on teaching ‘stuck thinking’ as well, being able to recognise when we are using a ‘stuck mindset’ and use strategies to consider others.

9. Size Of The Problem

It is important to teach individuals that rather than thinking any problem is a problem, we teach that problems come in different sizes. This has evolved from the concept that often how the individual is perceiving the problem does not align with how others perceive the same circumstance. We identify that problems can come in three sizes; small, medium and big, and that it is important to try and match our reaction size to the problem size, as this is ‘expected’ and helps others to feel ‘comfortable’ and ‘happy’ around us.

10. Sharing an Imagination

Individuals with a ‘singular imagination’ often can only imagine what they are imagining and find it challenging to attend and imagine what others are imagining. They may also appear confused when others can’t imagine or see the experience they are imagining. We teach ‘sharing an imagination or ‘sharing a goal’ to help children have the skills to play and work effectively with another person and share space together.

If you are interested in hearing more about the 10 core social competencies please visit Social Thinking ® at and book an online webinar or participate in one of the free webinars listed. If you want to find out how we can help you or your child develop and enhance their social competency skills, please contact us.

Please note*: Learn Sense Grow, including its teacher or leader, is not affiliated with, nor has it been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by Michelle Garcia Winner and Think Social Publishing, Inc.