I am glad you (sort of) asked!! The simple answer is yes. The not so simple part is how they are related. When I refer to social language, I mean the ability to take someone else’s perspective and the foundational skills of comparing, contrasting (settings, characters, motivations, problems), making inferences, identifying cause/effect, predicting figurative language and understanding point of view. Whew! In addition, kids need to be able visualize and verbalize, understand vocabulary in context, ask and answer factual questions, sequence, identify feelings (their own and the characters), use illustrations for clues to meaning, AND understand details as well as the big picture/main idea of a story. When you pull apart all the pieces a child needs to have to succeed in reading for all academic subjects (and life skills too), it’s amazing anyone can do this.
Now add to the above list the learning profile of a child with ASD (autism spectrum disorder). Michelle Garcia Winner uses a beautiful illustration of the Social Thinking Tree to describe how we grow as social thinkers (and we are ALL social thinkers in one way or another). If you haven’t explored Michelle Garcia Winner’s blog and website you are missing out on a TON of great information for SLPS, parents, teachers and community support therapists. Her take on the “roots” we need include joint attention, theory of mind and emotional regulation, then we move up the trunk to understanding perspective (her ILAUGH model) and climb to the branches of reading comprehension, written expression and cooperative group work. At the top of the tree (the most difficult skills to acquire) are summarizing, understanding character’s motivations and emotions, and understanding hidden/changing rules across environments. Do any of these ring a bell in the classroom? Yup, they sure do. You smarties were already working on social language without even knowing it!!
So where are we going on this little Smartmouth adventure? In the next few months, I will be posting some books with activities, video clips and graphic organizers that you can use to reinforce all the concepts we talked about above. In addition, I would love to share some great websites and social language ideas that you can use with all of your students (not just kids with ASD, but also children with learning disabilities, traumatic brain injury, ADD, ESL students and kids with emotional/behavioral disorders). Social skills are life skills really and to quote MGW, “All academic learning is done in the context of a social setting”.
In the spirit of full disclosure, from time to time I will post links to my teachers pay teachers store. Feel free to look through my social thinking and speech boards on Pinterest and pin awayl! I would love to hear from YOU as well about what you see as a need, anything working well or idea sharing-we are all in this together!
One big caveat I share with the professionals that I work with is that social language acquisition is not linear. So much of developmental acquisition with language, motor skills, and academics follow a nice, neat sequence of scaffolding skills and moving forward one step at a time. Social language is like a ladder that can move sideways, diagonal, backwards or stop mid-air. That’s part of what makes this so tricky. Social language is deep and multi-layered and much of what we expect our students to do incidentally or following one or two rubrics is incredibly non-intuitive for students with ASD. Please pack your patience, creativity, sense of humor and compassion for this journey. You are going to need them and your students will too.