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.

Click here to download Michelle's CV.



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

Is It Worth the Risk? Exploring the Value of the Social Risk Scale

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

Consider that everything we do or say, and possibly what we don’t do or say, is perceived and interpreted by others. At times the message we are communicating is considered quite risky, but it might be worth the potential benefit. To help individuals figure out the perceived or potential level of risk related to actions or statements, we developed the Social Risk Scale. It’s a simple visual tool to empower people to make their own decisions related to their social goals.

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Just Because Someone Says, “I Don’t Care,” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean They Don't!

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

The “I Don’t Care Scale” is a visual tool codeveloped by teens. It was originally designed to help educators, therapists, and caregivers better understand the perspective of the student who routinely responds with, “I don’t care.” The scale is also a tool to acknowledge an individual’s point of view with empathy and without judgement and promote meaningful discussions.

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The 3 Parts of Play: Teaching Planning and Executive Functions

Author(s): Ryan Hendrix, MS, CCC-SLP, Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP, Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP, & Kari Zweber Palmer, MA, CCC-SLP

The 3 Parts of Play/Activity is a visual framework designed to teach social learners about planning, choice making, and time management—all executive functions. It also helps individuals learn that any activity involves a process, and there are steps we take from start to finish while keeping time limitations in mind. This builds essential and foundational executive functions. The nice part about this framework is that we can explain that any activity, whether individual or group based, has at least three parts, and all parts involve time prediction.

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How Can We Rally Our Motivation?

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

Most of us find motivation to do stuff we like or that interests us. But how do we rally our motivation to do things when we feel sad or anxious, or when tasks are complex, or take a lot of time, effort, and thought? Motivation is essential to achieving our goals—mundane or spectacular—but how to rally it is rarely, if ever, taught explicitly. This article explores evidence-informed and practice-based tips, tools & strategies to help individuals of all ages overcome such motivation when dealing with anxiety, depression, lagging social and/or organizational competencies, and negative self-talk.

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Initiating Connection Is an Antidote to Loneliness

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

Social anxiety prevents many people from initiating face-to-face social connections with others, which can make them feel isolated and lonely. Explore why face-to-face interaction is vital to our personal well-being and discover some simple, authentic ways to empower those who struggle with initiating connection and loneliness to feel included and valued within their communities.

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Empowering Student Voices: The Transformative Impact of Student-Led Social Learning & Advocacy

Author(s): Kari Zweber Palmer, MA, CCC-SLP, Ryan Hendrix, MS, CCC-SLP, Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP, Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

Listening to our students and trusting them as experts on their own experiences can transform the educational landscape through student-led approaches to social, emotional, and academic learning (SEAL). Conversations with approximately 500 4th and 5th graders based on the simple prompt, Someday in school, I would like to_____., empowered these kids to give voice to their aspirations and perspectives on making school a more inclusive and fulfilling environment. The powerful themes of choices and relationships that emerged from this activity highlight the essential elements needed for every student to feel a sense of belonging. Truly heeding their voice serves as an important reminder of where to invest our time and energy—especially as we head back to school.

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How to Foster Students’ Flexible Thinking & Advocacy Skills Using Future Thinking: The Somedays Activity

Author(s): Kari Zweber Palmer, MA, CCC-SLP, Ryan Hendrix, MS, CCC-SLP, Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP, Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

Engage your students in a low-effort, high-impact group activity that cultivates future thinking, reasoning, and flexible thinking to develop advocacy skills. When encouraging students to imagine their ideal school experience by completing the sentence, Someday in school, I would like to ___., educators create opportunities for students to imagine what they can do in the here and now to create a path for themselves that they desire for the future. Explore how this activity fosters students’ goal setting, interactions with others, and the practice of using their voice for advocacy, allowing them to feel empowered, included, heard, and engaged in their educational experience.

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DO ObseRve (DOOR): A Practical Social Observation Strategy for Managing Social Transitions

Author(s): Kari Zweber Palmer, MA, CCC-SLP, Ryan Hendrix, MS, CCC-SLP, Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP, Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

Explore the teachable role that everyday doors play in developing social observation skills. Doors not only define physical spaces, but they also serve as visual cues for transitioning into new situations. By encouraging our students, children, and clients to use the Do ObseRve strategy before entering a new space, they can first imagine the situation, gather information by thinking with their eyes, ears, and brain as they observe the situation, and then make smart guesses about what to expect to manage the transition and navigate social situations more effectively. Use this simple strategy in school, at home, and in the community.

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The ABCs of Summer Boredom: Awareness, Curiosity, and Action

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP, Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP, Kari Zweber Palmer, MA, CCC-SLP, Ryan Hendrix, MS, CCC-SLP

“I’m bored!” Those familiar (yet dreaded!) words can often punctuate the lazy days of summer we hope to be filled with fun, adventure, and new experiences. But boredom, like any other feeling, holds valuable information. Recognizing and understanding boredom is the first step toward transforming it into something more fulfilling. In this article, we explore the signs of summer boredom, particularly focusing on children and teens, and delve into strategies to combat its restlessness, ignite creativity, and empower guided decision-making.

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Two Simple Executive Function Strategies to Avoid Family Stress & Stay Connected During Summer Break

Author(s): Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP, Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP, Kari Zweber Palmer, MA, CCC-SLP, Ryan Hendrix, MS, CCC-SLP

Summer break can be a great time for kids to relax and have fun, but it can also be a time when change and lack of structure are the norm, which can be stressful for kids and parents alike. In this article, we share two executive function strategies for creating a summer break schedule that’s full of choices and gives kids some responsibility for coming up with healthy ways to entertain themselves while staying connected with the family.

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Brain Wires and Social Smarts: A Student’s Tool to Reflect on Their Growth

Author(s): Kari Zweber Palmer, MA, CCC-SLP, Ryan Hendrix, MS, CCC-SLP, Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP, and Pamela Crooke, PhD, CCC-SLP

A teacher recently shared her thoughts on the end of the school year, referring to it as the time when teachers and caregivers have everything to do and students have… nothing to do. While this, of course, is an overgeneralization, many of us might be able to relate. So how do we finish up the school year with Social Thinking in an intentional, but also realistic way?

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Teaching an Essential Life Skill: How to Ask for Help

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

As social beings, we’re wired to want to help others. That’s why it can be so baffling when our students and clients find it difficult to ask for and accept help from those who genuinely want to give it. The reasons can be many: anxiety, shame, pride, a lack of awareness that they may need assistance, or not knowing the actual social and emotional process of how to do it. We all need help from others from time to time to achieve our social, academic, and career goals. So, how do we help our children, students, and clients learn how to ask for help?

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