Social Cognition: What Is It and What Does It Tell Us About How to Teach?
Understanding how a person learns is essential to understanding how to teach. If a math teacher asks a student to “show me your work,” she is checking to see if the student understands the process used in solving the problem . We , as educators or parents, might ask ourselves the same question regarding how we are able to function in a social situation or within a casual conversation. How do we do it ?
What is the process we go through to determine whether another person is interested in what we have to say? How do we know that someone enjoys our company? How do we make social decisions regarding how closely we stand to another person or how long we maintain eye contact? The answer is that we do not know how we make these decisions. Somewhere in our early development we figured it out and over time, through experience and practice, it became second nature. This is called social cognition, and in order to teach it effectively to children and youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), it would make sense for us to learn the cognitive process we use for addressing social situations.
Social cognition involves how we think about all things social, how we interpret other people’s actions and how we adjust our own actions based on the reactions of others. There are not many conditions more social than the school environment. In order to feel competent and comfortable, students need to understand the global expectations of school, accept the authority of teachers and restrain their own desires for the good of the group. If students are not successful in these very basic social cognitive feats, they risk social failure and anxiety that can lead to social confusion or challenging behaviors.
Science is discovering new information about how the brain works; neuropsychology, in particular, can provide tremendous insight into how social cognitive challenges can impact learning. Several new theories can help educators, families and individuals on the spectrum better understand the complexities associated with social cognition.
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
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