Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Seeing Socially Through Their Eyes First





















So this is not the last post. I am actually done with the last post. I am just not done with the next blog. Yes, there is a next blog. That announcement will come soon.

However, I needed to post this because I had an explosive learning experience at recent a YAI conference here in New York and for me the best way to keep this memory alive is by recording it and sharing it.

You may have heard me discuss this in previous posts but after having listened to the Michelle Garcia Winner in person, I can appreciate even more now why her curriculum, Social Thinking is being used all over the world.

I first heard about her after an auction win for a 2-day session for a sibling dyad (relationship/play therapy) at Emerge and See an NYC-based educational center for special needs children. One of the owners, Alison Berkley spent a lot of time on the phone with me trying to explain how she uses the principles taught by Michelle Garcia Winner in her approach to helping siblings play with each other.

"Michelle Who?" is all I thought and then moved on. I wasn't interested in the curriculum. I honestly didn't even know there were different social skills curricula out there. All I thought was, "Could you just make my kids play with each other without it erupting into a fight, three seconds after I walk away?"

Alison, who, by the way, was really good with my kids, tried in the kindest most patient way to push through my blockhead what Ms. Winner teaches. And while it is no fault of Alison's, I finished my conversation with her picturing Ms. Winner to be some woman in some room at some school that wrote a nice text book about how kids can make more friends.

I really do have to thank Emerge and See for planting Ms. Winner's name in my head because the next time I heard her name was a year later, at my son's beloved afterschool center, the Quad Manhattan. The Quad is a place for lots of different classes and activities but Michelle Garcia Winner's Social Thinking concepts are the basis for the staff relates to the kids there and social interaction in their classes. Social Thinking, I thought must be a good thing because it was there he learned martial arts for the first time. My oldest son is a boy who gets asked to leave martial arts classes but at the Quad, he ended the semester as one of the best in his class. Until then we didn't know how athletic he really was.

But back to Social Thinking: I was already curious by then but I was really hooked when I went to a workshop at the Quad where a speech language pathologist and Social Thinking provider, Rhea Hooper spoke about how kids have a hard time thinking about what the other person is thinking. Thus, they make mistakes and that leads to the child with special needs feeling badly about himself. From there, the feeling bad part that is, we work our way back up to help the child learn from his social mistake. Wait, what????? Sounds so negative.

I felt like I was just transported by a Star Trek phaser to Korea, where I was born. I jokingly say that this culture in which I was raised, is a special space on this planet where the fuel of shame propels so many engines there. And you know what? I do not mean this in a bad way. I really don't because it is so very real. My kids may not know what exactly they goofed up on but they certainly can sense that they are not the most liked in the room. Not surprisingly, after some of their social faux pas, the buttons are pressed, and the meltdown begins.

No less than 1 million times have I heard as a child and personally said to children, including my own, "How would you feel if someone did that to you?" And now I am thinking, wait, why do we ask such a question to a child who has a hard time considering other people's feelings to begin with... why use a teaching approach that forces them to use a skill they lack? It's like trying to teach a kid to write with his right hand when he's a born-lefty. Or teaching division to a kid who's bad at both math AND reading by making him do math word problems. Not smart, right? Enter: Social Thinking.... and I am now thinking to say to my son something like:

Hey, you did XYZ, and she now has weird thoughts about you. How do you feel?

bad.

And do you like feeling like this?

no.

Hmmm.... maybe when this situation comes up again, you could try to solve the problem a different way? Can we talk about that?

yeah....

















And I'm sorry to all the wonderful folks at Social Thinking if I am not interpreting their curriculum incorrectly. But this was truly the hook for me. My oldest son thinks in patterns and with logical reasoning (most times at least) and for his little logical mind, this is a great way to look at social relationships, which as we know can be quite illogical.

Let's go back to my college years.... "He said, he would call...... but it's been two weeks and nothing, no messages even! Why?"

Logic Man would say, "Chances are, he died, or was in a car accident and his cell phone was crushed, or he lost your phone number and doesn't know any of your friends' numbers."

Illogical Man would say, "Come on, not everyone does what they say they'll do. If he didn't want to call you, would he tell you that and then go?"

Illogical Man wins.

Ms. Winner also talked about dating issues briefly too although the above example is just a sampling of my most pathetic dating memories. Anyway, I now think like this: social relationships are not so logical but we can speak to our concrete-thinkers by trying to see things through their perspective first. Ms. Winner did teach me that this week. I hope I never forget it especially since I forget a lot of stuff.

My son who is an expert forgetter too, is more apt to remember his own feelings more than someone else's. Heck, he may not get how someone else feels at all, especially if he has never been in the same situation. Sometimes we can't either. But I am quite certain that if I remind my son to remember his own feelings about certain situations, then he will be more motivated to make better decisions and carry out the "expected" behavior if he wants others to NOT think weird thoughts about him.

I mean it all sounds so practical, doesn't it? If you insult someone or get left out or have an argument, irregardless of how the other person feels, I tell my son, "you will feel bad and YOU don't want that." And I know he gets that.

I know this is a little bit against what I learned as a kid... Be yourself.... It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks about you.... Don't copy them just to fit in.... Just ignore him, he doesn't matter..... But you know what? I don't think these mottos apply to my kids. Maybe later, but not now, maybe not ever....

So instead of asking, "Do you remember how mad Daddy was when you broke that?" I am now trying to ask him, "Do you remember when you had to explain yourself to Daddy and how awful you felt?" And likewise, I can remind him how great he felt about himself when he won that prize and leave the focus off of how I was proud of him or how everyone was praising him. The key focus is always about how HE felt.

It goes much deeper than that and I should not try anymore to explain this curriculum. I have more reading to do and I am not good at reading. I promise though, that I will be posting more about Social Thinking in my next blog especially how social deficits are tied to academic problems--- totally fascinating. But since the new blog hasn't made its debut yet, I needed to write something about this very fantastic curriculum that has been changing the way I've been teaching my children to relate to others.

For my older son, while there are myriad interventions at play, Social Thinking is one strong reason why his playdate requests have gone up by, gosh... I can't compute.. how do you times something by zero? Okay, seriously, just 12 months ago, I would stare at my contact list and really have a hard time finding a good match for him but now things are different. It's hard to describe it without sounding AND feeling deluded so I will just say this: I am so proud of Logan. He has been doing great at making friends these days. If you ask him now,"Who is your best friend?" He will give me one, possibly two names. And in all eyes concerning, the answer will be correct.

******* IMPORTANT*********
Oh, I can't close this post without mentioning this. If you are reading this Alison, my boys, still fight, but on most occasions they get along great. Their play is usually now on "auto-pilot." And you were right, by the time one brother wanted to do something, the other brother was onto something else. Now, they negotiate with each other, using tactics you taught them over a year ago by taking turns in leading the play. It's not surprising that I heard Michelle Garcia Winner say this week at the conference someone usually takes on a leadership role in a group. To be sure, that has been established Alison has said I should teach them to take turns being a leader (even though the older one hogs up that job often). Still, the two of them have found time afterschool a lot more fun. Thank you Emerge and See. And thank you YAI for bringing Michelle Garcia Winner to NYC! Now I don't have to have to leave home to hear her speak although something tells me I'll be doing that anyway, since there is so much more to learn.

And thanks everyone for reading Can Mom Be Calm?

I promise to issue the last post next week. Ha! There! I gave myself a deadline.

Photo 1: Michelle Garcia Winner (the start) poses for a photo with me. I wish my face didn't look like that. I look a little evil or angry... oh well....
Photo 2: Alison Berkley at Emerge and See's previous location before they moved to Chelsea (still in NYC). My two boys loved playing with her.

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