Mapping a Social Error

  • Situation

    When someone gets hurt or is talking about a painful event, my son often laughs. He has had this inappropriate nervous laughter since he was young, but it has become an issue in the work environment. He is 22 years old. This has offended others. He  explains that he is nervous and can’t control it, but  would really like some help finding a workable solution. Is there anything I can share with him that may help?

  • Summary

    Difficulty in understanding the perspective of others can often lead to negative social situations for persons with autism or related disabilities. The ability to “jump in someone else’s shoes” and understand how they may be feeling or what they may be thinking impacts what we say to that person and how we say it. For children and adults with autism or related disabilities, the difficulty in understanding the perspective of others can often lead to offending a classmate or a colleague even though that was not the intent. In addition, the individual likely has difficulty understanding non-verbal communication and using socially appropriate language to convey a message or share empathy. For example, a person with autism might see a co-worker writhing in pain after a fall or cutting themselves but misinterprets the facial expression or body movements as something “funny” or just something they don’t quite understand. In some cases, a person may know that something is wrong but doesn’t quite know how to respond to the situation.   Social Behavior Mapping (Michelle Garcia Winner) is a strategy that can help to explicitly teach appropriate responses to a variety of difficult situations. The mapping process can help teach a person with social cognitive deficits to respond to peers or colleagues in a more socially appropriate way, leading to better social outcomes at school or in the work place.

  • Definition

    Social Behavior Mapping is a system developed from the work of Michelle Garcia Winner, who coined the phrase “social thinking.” This strategy helps a person to understand how their behavior is linked with the consequences that follow (good or bad). We cannot assume that a student understands how his behavior is linked to the consequences that follow, or that he understands how his behavior affects the perspective of fellow students or colleagues. The maps are used to explain to the person what is happening with the people around him (e.g. getting offended) when he exhibits different behavior (e.g. laughter).

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 6-10, 11-13, 14-17, 18+
    • Planning Effort: Low
    • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Pre-requisites

    Ability to understand the concepts introduced in the strategy (low average to above average intellect).

    Ability to answer questions and use language to explain a situation.

  • Process

    1. Complete the “expected behavior” (Social Behavior Mapping) form first.
    2. Write down the set of behaviors at the top for example: “Listening and talking to someone who has been hurt.”
    3. List the “expected” behavior or what a person would typically do in this situation.
    4. Write how that appropriate or “expected” behavior made the other person feel (use emotion words e.g. proud, happy, calm).
    5. List consequences that evolve from making people feel good (e.g. made the person smile, given star on chart, student wants to be near me).
    6. Then move onto doing the same process for the “unexpected” or inappropriate behavior.
    7. Use less language and describing to avoid arguments or negotiations…try to focus on what is written on the Behavior Map.

    NOTE: An additional template in the form of a flowchart (Behavior Consequence Flowchart) can also be used to address the social error and teach more appropriate responses. (see attachments)

  • Documents and Related Resources

    Social Behavior Mapping (2007) (book)


    Social Behavior Mapping Connecting Emotions and Consequences Across the Day, Michelle Garcia Winner


    Blank Consequence Flow Chart (Word document)


    Social Behavior Mapping Form (PDF)


    Social Skills Powerpoint Curriculum


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