Michelle Garcia Winner

Founder & CEO Social Thinking • MA, CCC-SLP

Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP, is the founder and CEO of Social Thinking and a globally recognized thought leader, author, speaker, and social-cognitive therapist. She is dedicated to helping people of all ages develop social emotional learning, including those with social learning differences. Across her 30-year career she has created numerous evidence-based strategies, treatment frameworks, and curricula to help interventionists develop social competencies in those they support. Michelle's work also teaches how social competencies impact people's broader lives, including their ability to foster relationships and their academic and career performance. She and her team continually update the Social Thinking® Methodology based on the latest research and insights they learn from their clients.

Michelle maintains a private practice, The Center for Social Thinking, in Santa Clara, California, where she works with clients who continue to teach and inspire her. She travels globally presenting courses on the Social Thinking Methodology, an evidence-based approach she created that she continues to evolve and expand on. Michelle helps to develop educational programs, consults with and trains families and schools, and is a guiding presence with a wide range of professionals, politicians, and businesses on the topic of social emotional competencies. She is a prolific writer and has written and/or co-authored more than 40 books and over 100 articles about the Social Thinking Methodology.

Michelle receives accolades for her energetic and educational conference presentations, as well as her down-to-earth approach to teaching social competencies. The strength of Michelle's work is her ability to break down abstract social concepts and teach them in practical, concrete ways to help people improve their social problem solving abilities and social responses.

Career Summary

Michelle’s interest in autism while attending the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1979 became the catalyst for becoming a speech language pathologist (SLP). Her first two mentors in the field were the late Dr. Carol Prutting (an early pioneer in the study of social pragmatics) and Dr. Robert Koegel (founder of Pivotal Response Therapy, aligned with ABA). While attending graduate school at Indiana University, Bloomington she became involved in the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) under the leadership of Nancy Dalrymple, who became another strong mentor for Michelle. At IRCA in the 1980s, Michelle worked extensively with teens and young adults who would by today’s standard be referred to as “classically autistic.” Her students experienced significant intellectual learning challenges, weak speech/language development, and very limited social learning abilities. Michelle excelled at combining her knowledge of communication with behaviorism to help her more cognitively challenged students develop basic functional communication and social skills through behavioral teachings.


After returning home to California in the late 1980s, Michelle transitioned to working in hospitals and post-acute hospital rehabilitation centers with neurotypical learners who suffered from head injuries or strokes. There she learned about higher-level brain functioning and cognitive rehabilitation. In 1995, her career transitioned once more when she became the SLP for a public high school district. Her caseload was comprised of many older students who had relatively strong intelligence and language, but who lacked more refined social communication skills. The Social Thinking Methodology was born out of necessity as a way to reach those “bright but socially clueless students” who needed more information about how to navigate the social world than just memorizing dialogue to use in conversation. They needed to know why they should bother to converse at all, or even interact with others in their environment. The Social Thinking Methodology was born!


Michelle opened her private practice, the Center for Social Thinking, in 1998 and was met with high demand that continues to rise to this day. Trained professionals work with individuals ages 4 through adulthood in individual and group settings. Michelle continues to carry an active caseload of clients, in addition to consulting with families and schools on the Social Thinking Methodology and designing programs tailored to the individual’s needs. Michelle also started the company now called Social Thinking Publishing, Inc. to handle the growing public speaking demand from the national and international stage, as well as to publish her and others’ books on the Social Thinking Methodology. Michelle has written and/or co-authored more than 20 books on Social Thinking and her work is being applied not only to persons with higher-functioning autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADD/ADHD, and related disabilities, but also more broadly to students in mainstream classrooms and to adults in vocational and professional settings in the U.S. and abroad.



In 2016, her approach led, a leading national nonprofit organization, to call Michelle, "...the leading expert in the field of social skills."


In 2008, Michelle was honored with a Congressional Special Recognition Award for her groundbreaking work in the field of social learning.


" of my favorite authors in the field of teaching emotional intelligence. Michelle Garcia Winner has pioneered some very helpful ways of conceptualizing and helping educators understand the social challenges that students on the autism spectrum face." - Stephan Borgman, 2010, Psychology Today, "Spectrum Solutions"



To check out the Social Thinking Research homepage, click here.


Research published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders supports using Social Thinking Vocabulary with individuals with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Learn more here.



Michelle lives in San Jose, CA with her partner and has two daughters, Heidi and Robyn.


Financial Disclosure

Financial: Michelle Garcia Winner is employed by Think Social Publishing, Inc. as an author/speaker and receives compensation for her presentations as well as the sale of her books and by the Social Thinking Center as a clinician. Michelle owns the companies Think Social Publishing, Inc as well as The Social Thinking Center, Inc. and their related intellectual property.   


Non-financial: No relevant non-financial relationship exists.


Certified Social Thinking Training & Speakers' Collaborative Member


Social Thinking Training & Speakers' Collaborative



Michelle Garcia Winner is officially trained and sanctioned by Think Social Publishing to provide trainings related to the Social Thinking Methodology. Before attending a training in your area, please make sure to look for the official STTSC member badge.

Honors & Awards

  • Congressional Recognition Award, 2008

    Congressional Recognition Award, 2008

    Michelle Garcia Winner received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for her groundbreaking work helping individuals who have autism spectrum disorders and related social thinking challenges. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey honored Michelle with the award, as the social thinking methods Michelle has developed are becoming the basis for curricula around the country.

  • Lifetime Achievement Award, the Prentice School, 2012

    Lifetime Achievement Award, the Prentice School, 2012

    Michelle received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Prentice School on the 24th of February. Carol Clark, the administrative executive director of Prentice School, presented the award to Michelle at the Social Thinking conference hosted by the Prentice School in Santa Ana, CA, for her innovative contributions to parents, professionals and individuals with social and communication challenges. The Prentice School is an independent, nonprofit school for students who struggle with reading, writing, spelling, oral language, and math. Upon humbly receiving the award, Michelle jokingly stated that while the award makes her sound brilliant within her field, during her years in school she was an average student who planned on always being a speech-language pathologist. Even through her years working in the school systems as an SLP she stated, “the principle never knew what to do with me, so she just let me work with my students as I pleased. I was able to re-organize their class schedules so that they all were able to come to their speech class with me.” Her goal was simply to give her students the best possible education both from a social and a scholastic standpoint. It was during these years that she spent as an SLP in the school that she started the development of a social communication curriculum, which in time grew into Social Thinking. Michelle had never planned on Social Thinking becoming what it is today: a curriculum used around the world with all ages, abilities and cultures.

  • Outstanding Achievement Award, California Speech- Language-Hearing Association (CSHA), 2012

    Outstanding Achievement Award, California Speech- Language-Hearing Association (CSHA), 2012

    California Speech, Language and Hearing Association (CSHA), District 4 – Outstanding Achievement Award to Dr. Pamela Crooke and Michelle Garcia Winner.

  • Community Partner Award, Massachusetts Association for the Blind (MAB) Community Services, 2016

    Community Partner Award, Massachusetts Association for the Blind (MAB) Community Services, 2016

    Michelle was humbled to receive this award, here is MAB's statement about why she was chosen: "We honor you for your great courage and for the beautiful example you set for the others inspired to make a difference as you do."

Recent Articles

Making the Connection Between Dynamic Assessment and Treatment to Develop Social Emotional Competencies

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP and Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

When combined, informal dynamic assessment tasks, learning how the social world works, and teaching students metacognitively based lessons within the Social Thinking Methodology create a powerful paradigm for understanding how to support and provide treatment for individuals with social learning differences across time.

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Respecting Neurodiversity by Helping Social Learners Meet Their Personal Goals

Author(s): Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP and Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP

Neurodiversity should be acknowledged and celebrated. But, there are some individuals who struggle to understand and navigate within the social world, who seek and should also have access to information and treatment for developing stronger social competencies in order to meet their social goals. This article makes a clear, logical case for providing access to social emotional teaching and strategies, not to “fix” or “cure” but to provide a methodical and concrete way of seeing and understanding how the social world works—the hidden rules and implied expectations of society. The point of this article is not to mandate social interventions but rather make the argument that all individuals, neurotypical or neurodivergent, should have the opportunity to find strategies to meet their social goals if they so choose.

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7 Steps for Teachers to Help Kids Who Can’t Ask for Help

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP and Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

Social anxiety, in combination with an inability to initiate communication, may be the reason students don’t ask for help when they are stuck, confused, or can’t get started on their classroom activities and assignments. Here’s a seven-step action plan for teaching these concepts to your hard-to-reach students.

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Social Perspective Taking & The 5 Steps of Being with Others

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP and Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

Social perspective taking helps us make meaning of people as they interact or coexist together in specific contexts, whether or not we are actually present in that situation. It also helps us to navigate to self-regulate in the social world—a world that expects us to be consciously aware of each other and adjust our behavior accordingly. Most of us begin learning to take perspective intuitively as infants, but those with social learning differences or challenges require it to be taught explicitly. Explore what social perspective taking looks like, why it’s important, and how to define it in clear, practical terms. Unpack social perspective taking in 5 steps and learn how to teach abstract social cognitive concepts using this concrete framework, as social learners progress in their journeys toward self-regulation.

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What Is Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome (PDA)?: How We Can Help

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP and Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

Diagnostic labels and categories can restrict, confuse, and bias interventionists as they teach and treat social emotional learners who fall into the categories of PDA, ODD, behavioral disorder, resistant, or self-protective. The authors explore the evolution of their professional learning, practice, and treatment of this subgroup of individuals over the past 25 years. Using the Social Thinking–Social Communication Profile™, the authors identify specific social learning challenges and strengths, anxieties, and five key points to consider when developing treatment plans to help these individuals learn how to interact, interpret, and respond in the social world.

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10 Truths & Tips for Making and Keeping Friends

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP and Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

Making friends is a desired but complex social emotional learning journey. The ability to forge new friendships and maintain older friendships provides us with an understanding of relationships and practice needed to be part of a class, work effectively as a collaborative member of a team or group, and simply feel included wherever we may be. In adulthood, this same set of concepts and skills will help us become part of a community, hold a job, and possibly nurture families of our own. The authors identify 10 factors for making and keeping friends and provide a list of practical resources.

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Spaced-Out Kids Are Not Just Spaced-Out: What Teachers Need to Know, What They Can Do…and Why They Can’t Do It All!

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP and Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

When a student of any age exhibits a persistent pattern of social disengagement, confusion, and “cluelessness” during regular, routine classroom instruction and activities, it’s likely that this student’s brain is unable to figure out how the social world works and how to work in the social world—even if he or she seems to be academically sound. This article shows teachers what signs to look for in students who may face social learning and executive functioning challenges but have slipped through undetected. It clearly spells out why mainstream classroom teachers should seek expertise from specialists to better support these students’ needs, as well as what teachers can do in their classrooms to facilitate improvement.

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Break Through Students’ Social Anxiety Barrier: A Strategy for Student-Teacher Communication

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP and Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

Social anxiety can often prevent students from communicating and connecting with their teachers, a powerful building block of learning. Michelle Garcia Winner shows how students can use a simple tool to teach their teachers about their social anxiety to improve academic performance and bolster their social competencies in managing anxiety in the classroom and in face-to-face communication.

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Superflex® Teaches Super Metacognitive Strategies

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP and Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

Social thinking is flexible thinking; how we navigate through many different social landscapes and adapt our behaviors to meet our own goals is the beating heart of the Social Thinking® Methodology. Our top-selling Superflex®… A Superhero Social Thinking® Curriculum helps young social emotional learners use metacognitive strategies to develop flexible thinking to better self-regulate and problem solve in the social world. Instead of teaching children to “behave” through rewards and punishment, this evolving curriculum shows learners how to develop their own pathways toward self-regulation to meet their social learning goals.

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Social Metacognition: Using Social Emotional Learning to Defeat Helplessness and Engage Hope

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP and Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

We don’t learn helplessness—it’s an innate brain default. We do learn how to create hope in our minds to avoid feeling helpless. By using language and metacognition in an internal dialogue, we can teach our social minds to push toward social emotional learning for new ways to handle ourselves in a range of situations. Aspects of the Social Thinking Methodology® provide pathways for creating and sustaining hope in our lives.

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Five Ways to Become Closer with Social Distancing

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP and Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

Times of stress and hardship can drive us apart—but they often can also bring us together in positive ways we never imagined. The “social distancing” now required by the COVID-19 pandemic can actually foster better real-time communication and forge stronger, supportive relationships through flexible thinking, mindfulness, and socially smart technologies. Here are five ways to overcome the spiral of negative thinking, take control of what you can control, and positively contribute to the social emotional well-being of your community, as well as your own.

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Help a Child Get Social Learning Services in an IEP Meeting

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP and Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

Often students do not qualify for special services because a summary report states there is “no educational need” based on academic test scores and grades—even though it’s clear to everyone that these students are struggling to understand how the social and organizational world works and how to navigate within it. How do we define what it means to have educational need? Discover a strategy that uses school mission statements to define what a public education is to better understand whether students have special educational needs—and ultimately—to help prepare them for college and career readiness.

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