School-Based Therapy Services Hosts Statewide Practitioners for Workshop on Social-Emotional Competency

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November 2, 2023 by HCDE Communications

Nearly 300 therapists and educators from around the state attended a hybrid seminar on Thursday to discuss how to support students who face social thinking and self-regulation challenges. The workshop was led by Michelle Garcia Winner, a globally recognized social-cognitive therapist dedicated to helping people of all ages with social learning differences.

“It’s been interesting to see our internal social processes broken down into tangible steps that are easy to understand,” said Occupational Therapist Khalyn Williams, currently stationed in Hitchcock and Danbury Independent School Districts. “I appreciate these workshops because they create a space where professionals with myriad experiences can share ideas related to their successes and challenges.”  

Michelle Garcia Winner, CEO of Social Thinking, shares their ideology about developing students’ social competencies with attendees.

Garcia Winner and her colleague Dr. Pamela Crooke’s presentation was part of a daylong professional development workshop hosted by Harris County Department of Education’s School-Based Therapy Services division titled “An Internal Journey: Practical Social Thinking Strategies to Support Students with Emotional Dysregulation, Alexithymia and/or Challenging Behavior.”

Emotional dysregulation impacts a student’s ability to control their emotions and how they act on them, while alexithymia is a condition that makes experiencing, identifying, and expressing emotions difficult. While in the classroom, a diagnosis challenges students’ capacity to maintain long-term focus or build relationships with peers due to a deficit of social cues. Occupational, physical, and music therapists in the school-based environment work with students to develop executive functions, the “control processes” of cognition, like planning, decision-making, and self-regulation, to help them succeed in academic participation, extra-curricular activities, and interactions beyond the classroom.

“Social competencies are something we automatically expect from people, but these students have to learn these skills from the ground up,” said Garcia Winner. “It can be isolating when students aren’t included in activities with their peers, which I’ve often seen lead to mental health challenges later in life, but that’s why school-based therapy is so vital to their academic and personal success.”

Garcia Winner is the founder and CEO of Social Thinking, a methodology that provides educational resources to educators, therapists, and families to help strengthen social competencies for neurodivergent and neurotypical students in special education and the general population. During the workshop, she reviewed the social learning differences of students with emotional dysregulation, alexithymia, and behavioral challenges with attendees.

“We are pleased that technology has allowed us to open this workshop to school-based therapy practitioners throughout the state,” Therapy Services Senior Director Carie Crabb remarked. “Not all therapists practicing in Texas schools have the support that HCDE can provide for our therapists, and our division is happy to step in to fill that gap.”

As therapists attending virtually began inundating the workshop chat room with questions, Garcia Winner provided insights into the evidence-based strategies she’s developed across her 30-year career. Some strategies include self-reflection and modified behavior activities proven to help therapists teach students how to share space with other individuals, determine and express their feelings, and practice their techniques daily.

“The Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities provided a grant to help us secure Michelle as today’s speaker, and we are thrilled to bring her expertise to therapists across Texas,” said Crabb.

A recording of the workshop will be available to registrants on-demand on the TxSpot website through January 1, 2024.

To learn more about HCDE School-Based Therapy Services, visit

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