Social phobia is a medical condition characterized by extreme, consistent fear of meeting new people and being embarrassed in social situations. This is common among adults, and it’s believed to affect one percent of children. Young people with social phobia are always occupied with negative views of themselves, and can be less adept in social interactions. Family functioning, peer relationships and school attendance and participation can all suffer because of a child’s social phobia.
Defining Social Thinking
Many parents are familiar with social skills for children, which help their child overcome their fears of being with other people and interact with others better. But social thinking goes beyond what is mostly taught in schools; referring to more explicit and concrete ways of thinking. Social thinking makes use of thoughts behind social skills. This term was coined by Michelle Garcia Winner, an expert in the treatment of people with social-cognitive deficits.
Social Thinking Activities
Thinking with the Eyes
A child that has social communication and social skill issues is taught about “thinking with his eyes.” Without talking, they will do an activity where the child looks at something and “thinks with his eyes,” and the therapist will guess which object he was thinking about. The situation is then reversed, and the therapist will look at an object and have the child guess which one. With this exercise, the child learns “thinking with his eyes” and learn what someone is thinking about.
The Group Plan
In this activity, all the kids are asked to do a particular activity together. And if one child walks off and starts doing something else, he’s following his own plan, and not the group plan. Children might need individual practice at first, and progress later to group practices. To benefit from social thinking, children needs to have at least average language skills. It’s also important for families to reinforce these skills at home.
Teaching Methods and Lessons
Some teaching methods in social thinking include positive reinforcement, video monitoring, visual support and role playing. In these activities, the children are taught non-verbal communication, perspective-taking, self-control, flexible thinking, negotiating and problem solving, initiating conversations, hidden social rules, abstract language and group dynamics, among many others. A certified clinician will be with the child every step of the way.
The lessons vary depending on the age and ability of the child, ranging from learning about thoughts and both expected and unexpected behaviors to self-advocacy to smart guesses. Remember that social thinking goes beyond social skills training. Social thinking address the thought processes present in social interactions, helping children carryover and apply social skills to new environments and contexts.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosing and treating social phobia with social thinking can be a challenge. A trained clinician who’s had experience working with ADHD children should integrate information from the school, home and clinic to make a diagnosis. Supportive environment and flexibility are important to help kids overcome social anxiety and achieve success in school. Both the parents and school faculty should work hand in hand in reducing the child’s challenges.