Autism, the Social Thinking Curriculum, and moral courage

Power and Education 7 (3):355-360 (2015)

Abstract

Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking Curriculum is widely used by schools across the USA and has garnered attention internationally. The curriculum addresses social language and behavior deficits among those on the autism spectrum. Although many embrace this curriculum without reservation, the emphasis on social conformity, including avoiding behaviors that make others uncomfortable, merits scrutiny. Individuals who have difficulty understanding social cues and conventions can derive tremendous benefit from learning to fit in, for example, or learning what is likely to make others uncomfortable and why. However, too much emphasis on pleasing others can reinforce undesirable tendencies. For example, autism is already linked to avoidant personality disorder. An emphasis on avoiding making others uncomfortable may also inhibit the development of principled ethical thinking and action. Reframing social thinking to treat it not (or not only) as an end in itself, but as a way to achieve a variety of social and personal goals would go a long way toward addressing the weaknesses of the Social Thinking Curriculum.

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Kenneth A. Richman
Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

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