Partnership for Extraordinary Minds
  Understanding Autism
Diagnostic and Educational Disability Criteria
Four Categories of Differences
Understanding Physical Differences
Understanding Cognitive Differences
Understanding Social Communication Differences
Language and Conversation
Social Thinking
Understanding Emotional Regulation Differences

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"... the most important considerations in devising educational programs for children with autistic spectrum disorders have to do with recognition of the autism spectrum as a whole, with the concomitant implications for social, communicative, and behavioral development and learning, and with the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the individual child across areas of development."
—Educating Children with Autism, 2001

Social Thinking

The term social thinking was coined by Michelle Garcia Winner to describe the social cognitive process. While the brains of typical children are hard-wired to process social information from birth, most individuals on the autism spectrum must be taught directly why and how to consider the thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and intentions of others. Prior to the creation of treatment approaches to address social thinking, professionals focused on teaching social skills—the discrete verbal and nonverbal exchanges required to meet cultural expectations. By learning the why as well as the how of social interaction, individuals can begin to respond dynamically to the variety of social interactions they will experience throughout their day. Visit for extensive information and resources about social thinking.

For a child on the autism spectrum, social settings are the most difficult to navigate, since they are rarely structured and are inherently unpredictable. These students can be perfect targets for bullying because they often may not be able to discern they are being bullied. Bullying incidents frequently occur outside the classroom or when adult supervision is limited, such as during lunch and recess, but will directly impact the student’s performance and behavior in the classroom.

It is absolutely necessary to understand the social communication challenges of students on the autism spectrum, since the degree to which these challenges can be addressed directly will affect their academic and social/emotional success in the classroom.

  • May not understand that her actions determine how others think of her
  • May not notice when his behavior is different from that of others
  • May not seem to care that his behavior is different from that of others because he doesn’t understand the social consequences
  • May not be able to change her behavior based on the context and the needs and expectations of others
  • May not internalize thoughts, but says whatever she is thinking, regardless of the effect on others
  • May not know when or how to join a group of peers in an activity
  • May not understand why he is left out or ignored
  • May act unexpectedly to get peer’s attention
  • May not understand when others are trying to get her to do something inappropriate
  • May not understand when he’s being teased
  • May not understand the motivations of others including fictional characters
    • May prefer to read nonfiction
  • Has difficulty cooperating and problem solving with peers
    • May have significant difficulty working in groups
  • Has difficulty repairing relationships with adults and peers
  • May not discern the difference between disagreement and rejection
    • May assume others don’t like him if they don’t agree with him
  • May have significant difficulty functioning in large groups, which requires the ability to process and respond to unpredictable and constant social information from many different children and adults
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