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Guest Post: The Spirals of Social Success and Failure, Part II

by Trish on January 3, 2012 · 1 comment

in Autism, Resources, Strategies

Taken from the article “Social Anxiety and Social Skill Competencies” by Michelle Garcia Winner, Autism Asperger’s Digest,

Note: This is Part II of the article; click here for Part I, where Michelle outlines the key strategies she teaches for reducing social anxiety. I think the visuals are great – they remind me of what some of my favorite Aspie bloggers refer to as “loops”!

The Spirals of Social Success and Social Failure
Visual representations are strong—and welcomed—tools in helping our students understand the interrelationships that exist in social thinking and social processing. To help our students understand the concepts outlined in this article, I developed two graphic representations of the thought processes used in working through social situations. The Spiral of Social Success summarizes these concepts:

  • You will encounter some stress approaching this situation. In the past your anxiety would prompt you to bail out of this situation. Instead of starting by doubting yourself, explore what strategies you can use to help yourself deal with the uncomfortable social situation.
  • Use your inner coach to remind yourself how much better you will feel once you use your strategies—that you are capable of using these strategies as well as choosing specific strategies to use.
  • You feel better about yourself when you are demonstrating your abilities or social competencies.
  • This encourages you to use the strategies.
  • In doing so, you are training your brain that “you can do it” better than you have done it before!

Conversely, the Spiral of Social Failure illustrates what happens when our clients fail to embrace their social-learning–social-anxiety reducing strategies:

  • You encounter the same stressful situation, one you previously avoided.
  • Your anxiety prompts you to think of excuses for why you won’t engage in this situation today.
  • Your self-defeater voice assures you that you can’t do it and that you have never been able to do it.
  • You have negative emotions about your inability to get through this situation.
  • You avoid putting yourself in the situation.
  • You teach your brain one more time that you cannot do it! Your memory now reflects your inability and your self-defeater voice grows stronger.

The purpose of the Spirals of Social Success and Social Failure was to help our students understand how best to place the strategies they were learning in the context of their own functioning.

Our students helped us adjust the spirals so the wording more clearly matched their own experiences and emphasized how they related to the content of each spiral. This visual presentation paired with lessons that taught them the key concepts outlined in the graphics—increased accountability, self-learning, letting go of excuses, and embracing change—led to some very positive results.

They discovered they could choose positive behavioral responses to anxiety-laden situations and retrain their brains to learn new ways of acting and reacting. While the situations still caused anxiety, our clients gained confidence in attempting to push through their anxiety, further reinforced by the success they could achieve within the interaction. However, this learning process takes time. It may take years to help our students, through active learning of these strategies, to get them onto the Spiral of Social Success.

Some level of anxiety is inherent in every social situation we encounter. This set of strategies does not offer a cure for the anxiety experienced by individuals with social learning challenges. However, it can help minimize some of the anxiety by helping our students better appreciate how anxiety affects us and giving our students a toolbox of options to use when anxiety arises.

Such coping strategies are beneficial—not just for individuals with social learning challenges, but for us all!

Michelle Garcia Winner is the founder of Social Thinking®. She works in her clinic in San Jose, CA, has written numerous books, and speaks internationally. Visit her website,, for more information.

Excerpt was reprinted with permission. You can get a 15% discount on a subscription to the AADigest when you use this discount code: INTERRUPTED.

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