O.K., I admit it. I was a little star struck when I got the e-mail yesterday. When I saw her name in my inbox, I got a touch of the OH MY GOD I’M NINE AND TAYLOR SWIFT JUST CALLED TO INVITE ME OUT FOR ICE CREAM! You know, just a little.

But here’s the thing. This woman has changed our lives. No, not Taylor Swift. C’mon, keep up. And not since college have I thought it appropriate to call a twenty-one year-old girl a woman. No, the woman about whom I write has done something for which I can’t ever adequately begin to thank her. She has given my child a toolbox full of tools.

Without ever meeting my Brooke, she has helped her to begin to make sense of a world that would otherwise continue to confound her.

Michelle Garcia Winner is a hero in this house.

In addition to scores of every-day tools, Michelle has given us the language to talk about behavior in the context of expectation. When you have a child who either can’t control the way that that she acts (or reacts to her world), or who grew up having to rely on her behavior as a means of communication, it’s incredibly liberating to be able to talk about that behavior in terms of what is ‘expected’ vs ‘unexpected’, abandoning the intrinsic judgement in ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘acceptable’ and ‘not.’

So when I called Michelle’s office in Silicon Valley to ask about attending a local two-day conference that she is leading, I had to seize the moment. Despite the fact that the conference is so far beyond sold out that they are no longer accepting wait listers, the woman on the phone very sweetly hung in with me while I stuttered and asked her if she actually KNEW Michelle. “Um, Yes,” she answered. Like, duh. You think I answer her phone and have never met her? And she continued to bear with me while I tried to explain that there was a story that I just HAD to tell her because, well, I just HAD to. And despite the hint of ‘OH MY GOD, YOU MEAN YOU KNOW TAYLOR SWIFT LIKE PERSONALLY?’ in my voice, she even gave me her e-mail address and asked me to send the story along so that she could then pass it on to Michelle. So I did.

Here’s what I wrote:


Thanks so much for taking the time to pass this on. I’ve been dying to find a way to tell Michelle this little story. From an outsider’s perspective, it might seem fairly insignificant, but I’m confident that she’ll understand why it is anything but to our family.

My daughter is just shy of seven and a half and has pdd-nos. She has long struggled with, well – everything you’d expect her to struggle with, but employing language and identifying emotions have been two of her biggest challenges.

Meanwhile, we are Social Thinking junkies. Our school system employs Michelle’s curriculum for social pragmatics, our daughter’s private SLP subscribes to it as well, and our home life is peppered with the language of Social Thinking. We have glitches, not catastrophes, we use ‘whole body listening’, we ‘add-a-thought to keep dialogue alive, we are social detectives and most of all, we rely heavily on the concepts of expected vs unexpected behaviors.

This summer, our daughter attended an ESY program with an aide. One afternoon, she was obviously agitated and said, “B* I want to go home.” He was concerned and asked what was the matter. She looked at him very seriously, took her time, and finally responded. I thought her reply was worth passing on.

“B*, sometimes camp makes me feel unexpected.”

A heart-felt thank you to Michelle for understanding kids like mine and offering a road map to help them navigate an overwhelming world. The language of Social Thinking has quite literally changed our daughter’s life, and we are so grateful that she is gaining the skills that she needs to make her way.

Thank you so much!



She very kindly wrote back and told me how much she appreciated my sharing the story. She promised to pass it on to Michelle. Which she obviously did because Michelle then wrote back too. And SHE said that MY little story meant a lot to HER.

Don’t you just love gratitude?

So, Michelle, now that we’re like best friends forever, wanna call Taylor Swift and see if she wants to grab some ice cream?

~ Ed note: Michelle, if you’re reading this, please rest assured that it’s meant for a laugh and I’m not really a stalker. Though I guess that goes without saying. No autism mom could possibly find the time. 😉

~ Ed other note: When you link over to Michelle’s site, please don’t be scared off by lines like the following ~ “[Social Thinking] is best taught to students with near normal to way above normal verbal intelligence who have language skills. This is a language-based learning approach.”

Though some language is necessary in order for Social Thinking to be effective, the basics do not rely as heavily on sophisticated language as that sentence would imply. As you know, Brooke has had a great deal of difficulty with language and she has benefited greatly from the program.

29 thoughts on “unexpected

  1. I agree whole heartedly with both Sheila and your Dad!!

    You are like a ROCK STAR to me and so many other parent’s out in the ASD trenches! The first time you responded to something I posted on the Community Brag Page I was so excited I promptly told all my FB friends that you were like my new BFF!! LOL!!

  2. That’s fantastic, Sweetheart. So, are you going to Michelle’s concert (seminar)? If you are, you can go for ice-cream together.

    Love you,

  3. I’ve just started trolling for programs for my three-year-old, whose got (most of) that talking thing down, but will need lots of direction in that social arena. Thanks for sharing. I hope Michelle knows she’s been compared to a rock star…

  4. Thanks for tuning me in to a new-to-me resource… this is just the thing our family could benefit. (Nope, our school doesn’t use her curriculum… yet!) 🙂

  5. Jess,
    I (I know many other’s do too) LOVE YOU.
    Just WOW. Deeply indebted to everything you share with us. Your post about Military and diagnosis came flooding back soo many memories of those early days…..Am behind that 110%
    We all walk same path sooner or later, but you my friend are INSTRUMENTAL with helping SOONER rather than LATER and love you sooo much for it.
    Link is on it’s way to school.
    Deeply Indebted,


    Amy ~ I’m interested in reading more about Social Thinking. Which book should I start with?

    Sally ~ Jess, what is your Mom’s Jewelery website.. she had some nice things I wanted to get for my niece but I can’t find it.. Help! 🙂

    Wendy ~ I have never heard of Social Thinking before. It sounds right up our alley. Do you think it would work for a 3 year old?


    Diary of a Mom ‎@amy – we have been lucky enough to have been largely spoon-fed her curriculum by our practitioners, so i haven’t read the books yet. looking through them though, it looks like Think Social is a great place to start. it’s expensive, so hopefully you could borrow it from your local library. here’s the link:


    @sally – thanks for asking, my mom will be thrilled ..


    be sure to tell her i sent you!!

    @wendy, the honest answer is that i just don’t know. it wouldn’t have been appropriate for MY three year old, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for yours. i think it’s designed for school age children though. our school starts using it in kindergarten.

    Wendy ~ Thank you for the info!

    Laura ~ thinking about you thinking about me is probably a better place to start. The social detective and superflex books are great for younger kids- although 3 may be a bit young. you can also subscribe and view videos on the socialthinking website.


    Diary of a Mom thank you, laura!!! i was hoping someone else would chime in 🙂

    Amy ~ Thanks!

    • I don’t see why not. I obviously don’t have experience with it beyond the elementary level, but poke around the website. There’s a ton of information!

  7. Thanks Jess, Will wait to hear from Michelle concerning using some of her material with some compensation strategies as I work with some of my families in RDI ( Michelles books work from the top down and RDI from the bottom up) so they are very complimentary in some aspects.

    So thanks for your message about her contacting me.

    Have an awesome time at the conference!!!! hey I am going to the conference in November in Tampa! Anyone here going to that one with Holly Robinson Peete??


  8. a couple of additional questions from readers –

    QUESTION FROM SUE: Jess, can you tell me which books to get? This all sounds so helpful and I have never heard of it? If you could point me in the right direction -thx so much-


    Jess – could you also enlighten me about this? We’re in the P.L.A.Y. project and are seeing great results, but our little guy is 1) 3 and 2) still nonverbal (lots of attempts, though!), so I don’t know if (based on the site for Social Thinking) he’s a good candidate right now.



  10. Hi All,

    My name is Heidi, I’m the daughter of Michelle and her current Social Thinking book specialist. Jess and I have been in contact and I am here to give some answers to the questions you have had about Social Thinking!

    I know, I know… there are many many materials on the social thinking website and the question that always surfaces is ~ “Where do I begin?!” My mom and I co-wrote a document to answer just that (which hopefully will be up on the website in a near-but-not-instant future.) The document describes which books are best for different ages and different families/professionals. Lucky for you Jess has agreed to post the document in full on this site under a page called “Social Thinking Resource Guide.” https://adiaryofamom.wordpress.com/social-thinking-resource-guide .

    Now to your individual questions:
    Amy & Sue both asked ~ I’m interested in reading more about Social Thinking. Which book should I start with?

    Hi Amy & Sue, the document in the link above was made for you! The short answer is: the beginning point for parents and professionals is Thinking About You Thinking About Me 2nd Edition. If you have/ are working with a verbal child in elementary school, they would likely enjoy You Are A Social Detective.

    Molly ~ could you also enlighten me about this? We’re in the P.L.A.Y. project and are seeing great results, but our little guy is 1) 3 and 2) still nonverbal (lots of attempts, though!), so I don’t know if (based on the site for Social Thinking) he’s a good candidate right now.

    Hi Molly, you got it. Social Thinking can be extremely effective for certain individuals but it is not for every kid, nor for every age. Social Thinking books and products are designed for children, adolescents and adults with social learning challenges who can interact with and describe their world through language. The therapists at both The Center for Social Thinking and our sister clinic Teach Social Silicon Valley (both located in San Jose, CA) work with high-functioning individuals from preschool through adulthood on fine-tuning the nuance of social understanding and behavior.

    This may be too old for your son right now but for preschool kids with language we recommend the book Meet Thotso, Your Thought Maker by Rachel Robb Avery. This book introduces the idea that we all have sunshine (happy) feelings and boo-boo (sad) feelings and that we can give these feelings to others as well based on our behavior. The book is very interactive with lots of little gadgets to push, pull, stick and turn. Another product that is good for the young kids is the DVD Playtime with Zeebu. Zeebu is a blue monkey who, along with his animal friends, teach a variety of social concepts in the 3 episodes composing this DVD for kids. The Zeebu puppet is sold along with the DVD. Sold separately are coloring activity books featuring Zeebu and friends that teach social concepts through pictures and words. There are 3 activity books available: Eye Power, Eye Power 2 and Keeping Calm. Talkability by Fern Sussman is a great read for parents of young kids for direction on how to teach your child social concepts at home and in the community.

    The ST book document https://adiaryofamom.wordpress.com/social-thinking-resource-guide should be able to answer the rest of your questions and give you the direction you’re looking for. All of the products mentioned are available at http://www.socialthinking.com .. or if you’re in the California Bay Area come stop on by our office and we can help you in person! Thank you for your enthusiasm and to Jess for helping to guide so many families to the resources they’re looking for.


    Heidi Winner

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