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Using Superflex and Social Detective: Making PBIS Supercool!

Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP


Updated: Dec, 2020 - edited for UK
© 2020 Think Social Publishing, Inc.


First - a little background on our two primary school products with a legion of children and adult fans around the world: You are a Social Detective! and Superflex.


You are a Social Detective! is a 68-page comic book, written to teach parents and professionals, along with children, many of the core Social Thinking concepts such as social observation or detective, school smarts/social smarts, thinking with your eyes, and expected/unexpected behaviour. In this book we also present our core formula for teaching explicitly the concept of social responsibility.


We guide the reader to be an observer (or detective) in order to figure what to do (expected or unexpected) in the situation. What a person does in a situation is then linked to thoughts and feelings of others, which causes their responses. Students learn that each of us can strongly influence how people react and respond to us, and how we respond to them. We also teach adults and children how to use their "built-in" detective toolbox consisting of eyes, ears, brain and emotions. We strongly believe that individuals must learn to be keen social observers in order to launch into the Superflex® series.


Both Detective and Superflex connect to the core Social Thinking framework of explode the social code by providing meaningful lessons about the social world and concrete strategies to establish stronger self-regulation skills.


Self-regulation is where Superflex comes into play. The Superflex series helps adults teach strategies for self-regulation in a manner that most students find really engaging. Stephanie Madrigal, co-author of the original curriculum, was the brainchild behind using a superhero to represent the thinking ability that resides in each of our brains to defeat our social challenges. The idea is to teach children that they have a superhero inside their own brains (a superhero that takes on their appearance) in order to launch into action to defeat a sneaky group of characters who live in ALL of our brains called the “Team of Unthinkables.”


Each Unthinkable, like the child's personal Superflex, has powers. While Superflex has powers to provide people with flexible thinking and problem-solving skills, the Unthinkables have the power to derail specific aspects of social behaviour, leading all of us to do unexpected behaviour. Each student is encouraged to define, describe, and develop strategies to minimise the appearance of one to three personalised Unthinkables who may show up to thwart their flexible thinking.  There are also Thinkables, a group of positive and equally powerful brain inhabitants, who help to defeat the Unthinkables and coach us along the expected social route!


You can see why this is appealing! Lessons are launched against the backdrop of a place called Social Town (which is actually ANYtown and EVERYtown) where kids attend the Superflex Academy and where earning certificates and even graduation is possible! Students enjoy the process of learning about themselves while also developing stronger observation skills so they can spot an Unthinkable that may be invading the brains of people around them—including their parents or teacher.  They can also learn how to call on their Thinkables to stay strong and powerful.


Superflex has created a lot of buzz in our community and in schools, clinics, and homes. Teachers, parents, and students have created their own Social Town communities, discovered and drawn new Unthinkable characters, and composed skits using these characters. Some schools have even adopted the curriculum and its language and strategies school-wide for all students.


As more and more adults are embracing Superflex and this type of social learning/social awareness teaching, enthusiasm is growing for its use as a social–emotional learning tool that dovetails into PBIS (Positive behavioural Interventions and Supports).  


In response, Social Thinking in the US have developed ideas, strategies, and a Superflex conference day to address the connection to PBIS, social emotional learning and academic standards. Here’s a sampling of the some of the questions that have prompted their efforts: 


Q: “I observed a teacher at our school effectively use the books, You are a Social Detective, and the Superflex curriculum in a mainstream third grade class. Have you had much experience with schools using it more broadly as part of PBIS? How are people doing this?”

Yes! Many districts have been using these teachings as part of their Positive behavioral Interventions and Supports. The powers of Superflex help define and create a school culture that is attractive to students. Here’s an example of how a principal used this with his elementary school: Each day during morning announcements over the speaker system he announced which Unthinkable was on the loose, the powers of the Unthinkable and a strategy that all students could use to empower their own Superflex to defeat the Unthinkable.

In fact, we now have connections in over 500 schools who are using Detective, Superflex and Zones of Regulation in their classrooms, schools or districts.  As a way to connect with these individuals, we are launching a page on our website with a list of educators/therapists who are want to share how they are making a difference in their communities. Please check out the evidence page to see how you can become part of this connection.


Q:  “My kindergarten kids love Superflex but find it hard to use all the strategies - it's too complicated. Is it OK to use the curriculum in a more limited format?”

Yes! Many young elementary-school students enjoy learning about their own powers of self-control that reside in their brain and enjoy creating their own Unthinkables—ones that relate directly to them. We see that many of these kids also try to develop a strategy to defeat the Unthinkable, but our students with larger self-regulation issues will struggle to use Superflex’s strategies at this age. We actually recommend that the teacher start by exploring the fact that each child's brain has powers to control behavior, but stop short of having the student use strategies to try to control his/her own behavior. In other words, give them information to think about it without asking for the behavior change until they get a bit older. Teachers are finding that just by having their young learners consider this information and design their Unthinkable, they become more aware of their own internal powers of self-control. It’s a great first step toward self-regulation but please make sure to start with teaching observation skills by starting with the Social Detective!


Q: “We have been using You are a Social Detective! as part of our social–emotional teaching for children in our school and we’ve noticed students are using more self-regulatory strategies. Are there studies planned to collect data on this?”

Teachers are reporting to us that as students develop stronger awareness of core Social Thinking Vocabulary concepts, they are better able to describe what they are thinking and feeling as well as encourage their peers to think more actively about what others are thinking and feeling. This contributes to more active communication and better conflict resolution. Even though these tools are being taught in the classroom, students take them out the door onto the playground and beyond. We love hearing about the extended learning that happens, as kids become stronger social thinkers and social problem solvers! Take a look at the research page to see what's new related to this.


Q: “I hear Superflex was developed for use with elementary students, but I have some students in their 20s who are finding it really helpful. Is it OK to use the curriculum and concepts with young adults?”

We are careful to say that Superflex is designed for students with fair to strong language and learning skills in elementary school. We also stipulate that to be eligible to use this program, students need to be able to differentiate between the concept of “real” versus “pretend” as we don’t want our concrete-thinking students to think they need to literally try and get an Unthinkable out of their brain! Yet we also have noted that these very, very literal students who were not able to benefit from Superflex in elementary school are starting to find it a very helpful tool once they are in their later teens and early 20s. For these students, Superflex is very helpful for teaching self-awareness of their own behaviors and how they impact others, something they were far less aware of when younger. Superflex appears to be effective with this group of “Challenged Social Communicators” in their young adult years. They are still very immature but ready learners when information is presented in a way that interests them and meets their social–emotional developmental level.


We love the connection schools are making to PBIS and social thinking concepts - especially Superflex and Social Detective - and we will continue to develop lessons to encourage this partnership!

You are a Social Detective

Authors: Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke The social world is a big, complicated place where we are all social detectives as we observe, gather, and make sense of the clues in different social contexts (settings, situations, and the people in them) to figure out the hidden rules for expected behaviours, as well as to understand how we each feel and think about others in a situation. This 2nd edition teaches social learners the power of observation, reading context, and interpreting clues...

Social Town Citizens

Discover 82 New Unthinkables for Superflex® to Outsmart! Edited and Expanded Upon by Stephanie Madrigal, Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke This latest edition in the Superflex series, for children aged 8-11, is a compilation work that introduces 82 new Unthinkables and 14 new Thinkables submitted by Social Town citizens of all ages, which have been edited and expanded upon by Stephanie Madrigal and Michelle Garcia Winner. Unthinkables and Thinkables are grouped by theme/category for easy...

The Zones of Regulation

By Leah Kuypers, MA, OT, Autism SpecialistNew updated emotions illustrations!Inclusivity and representation of all learners are important to us! We are pleased to announce that we have included a more diverse representation of characters within our Zones emotions illustrations throughout the 2021 printing of the curriculum book. While eight characters can’t possibly embody all the spectrum of humanity, we hope that learners see glimpses of themselves and those they know among this new cast.The...


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