I work with an amazing speech language pathologist in my school system named Suzanne, and she is a master of using the Think Social and Superflex curriculum (both from Michelle Garcia Winner) with our kids who struggle with social language! Suzanne mentioned she is using social autopsies with many of her kids, and while it rang a bell, I wasn’t familiar with the details. It sounded kind of interesting (and a tiny bit creepy). After plugging the term into my dear friend Google, I found out it is definitely a very cool tool to use in therapy!! Bonus: social autopsy dovetails nicely into the social detective theme too, don’t you think?
Social skill autopsy is a concept coined by Rick Lavoie, a special educator. This video is a great insight into why he feels social skills are critical for children (in this example, kids with LD). We often focus on just our friends with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) when we talk about social language abilities, but the continuum is much broader. He also wrote a fantastic book “It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend” that continues the social conversation. His understanding of why culture is so hard for kids to navigate socially and how we as adults (teachers, parents, therapists) can support positive social interactions is extraordinary.
A social skills autopsy is founded on three ideas: most social errors are unintentional, punishing kids for unintentional errors is not only unfair, but inappropriate, and traditional remediation is not effective. Can I get a hallelujah?! You may think this is not new information, but for many people it is a paradigm shift. If we think about it, we all have probably had experiences on the other side of this equation. The difference is that we have enough social awareness and incidental learning strategies that we didn’t continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. Once was enough!
For example, many years ago, I walked into a small museum in Europe. I grabbed my camera and took a picture with a flash to capture all the beauty, and a security guard immediately grabbed my camera and made me leave the museum, yelling at me in French. I did not understand (because I sadly don’t read or speak French) that flash photography is forbidden as it damages the paintings. My error was unintentional and I was upset and confused as to what had happened. I might do the same thing again in another museum if my social awareness was not intact enough to figure out what I had done wrong. I might also incorrectly assume that all French museum guards are rude and angry people. Was it my intention to do the wrong thing and upset people? No, and for most of our students it isn’t their intention either.
Dr. Lavoie goes on to describe the intervention strategy in four steps: practice, immediate feedback, instruction and positive reinforcement. There is a fantastic article from LD online that gives details and examples of this technique. I found a few free printables that you can use in therapy with your students for social skill autopsies from behaviordoctor.org here from Dr. Christine Reeve. Dr. Reeve has a fantastic blog geared to the autism classroom that is full of great ideas btw, just search “social autopsy”.
Have you used social skill autopsies? Share your experience here!