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A Politically Incorrect Look at Evidence-based Practices and Teaching Social Skills:
A literature review and discussion

by Michelle Garcia Winner

Item: 9780979292255

Format: Paperback
Pages: 128

The concept of teaching social skills shortchanges the dynamic process that actually produces social skills. This issue is most acutely seen in students with autism spectrum disorders, Asperger’s Syndrome, PDD-NOS, nonverbal learning disability (NVLD)-and those who are undiagnosed but who are disrupting the classroom. These individuals struggle daily within an education system that is ill-suited to meet their needs. This book is for adults who are looking for strong background and recommendations for best practices for teaching social information to higher level students of all ages on the autism spectrum and with related disabilities.

Before a student can act socially, he or she must think socially. The education and counselling of school-aged students, however, has failed to embrace the complexity of social learning. Instead, educators and counsellors apply behavioural teachings to tidy up inappropriate behaviour without exploring whether, and to what extent, weak social thinking caused the behaviour itself.

Complicating matters is the controversial federal public educational policy, No Child Left Behind. NCLB calls for schools to use “evidence-based” practices in teaching students, especially students with disabilities. Strategies abound for teaching social thinking and related social skills and many are resulting in significant gains for our students. However, few - if any - meet the criteria for being “evidence based”.

While we wait for public policy to catch up with the needs of all students, this book charts a way to a new consensus for parents, teachers, service providers and administrators on teaching the social thinking that actually build social skills. At the end of the journey is the goal of education itself: to equip students with the knowledge and the skills they need to become as independent as possible and contributing members of society.

“Michelle challenges professionals and caregivers to think more deeply, and practice more consciously, in helping individuals with ASD to acquire and apply social-knowledge in their lives. In building on her seminal work in social thinking, Michelle argues effectively for an important and more thoughtful alternative to behaviourally-based social skill “training” approaches, which are so limited in honouring the complexity of individuals with ASD.”
- Barry M. Prizant, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, Director, Childhood Communication Services, Adjunct Professor, Center for the Study of Human Development, Brown University

“A compelling tour with a long overdue destination! With some of the most difficult questions surrounding the social challenges in ASD as a point of departure, Michelle charts an informed rationale for social learning strategies. Dispelling myths in-the-way of social understanding, she connects behaviour to thought, mistakes to insight, and confusion to direction. This is a trip worth taking! After reading this essay, I reconsidered its title. Sadly, I have to admit that it often is politically incorrect to step back, think, and work to ensure that what we do makes sense in light of what we know. That being the case, Michelle is definitely a valuable charter member of a small, politically incorrect club of educators in the field of ASD. New perspectives are the forgotten half of change; this essay organises the thinking that creates exciting “unexpected” opportunities for people with ASD.”
- Carol Gray, Specialist for persons with autism spectrum disorders

“I consider Michelle Garcia Winner to be the foremost expert in social learning for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Her unique understanding of the spectrum and the role of social learning relative to life success coupled with her ability to translate research into meaningful practice has placed her ahead of most. Anyone who is serious about learning about social learning should seriously study Michelle Garcia Winner’s model and materials. She has formulated answers while the rest of us are just beginning to ask the questions.”
- Brenda Smith Myles, Ph.D.

“A must read for all regular and special educators! In this well written and inspiring essay, Michelle Garcia Winner walks readers through the past, present and future goals of teaching social understanding, while addressing the current debate surrounding scientifically based research vs. real life practice. The science of Social Cognition is in its infancy and educators are just beginning to understand how this new science impacts how to best educate students on the autism spectrum and others who demonstrate problems of social thinking. This literature review and comprehensive discussion is a crucial first step in the process of defining and developing future educational programs in the area of social learning. Who better to lead such a discussion than Michelle Garcia Winner? Her cutting edge work in this emerging area of science and education has certainly earned her the right to speak on a topic that needs speaking about. Whether the reader finds the discussion politically correct or incorrect, it cannot be denied that it is a discussion whose time has come.”
- Kari Dunn Buron, Autism Education Specialist/Author

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