The necessity of teaching the “bigger picture”

The necessity of teaching “the bigger picture”.

The other day in a post I mentioned that when ADDitude magazine post my videos on their Facebook page inevitably there is a comment that take the information I present in the video out of context and argues why the information I presented is wrong.

I first learned of this concept of Gestalt Processing or
“Getting the bigger picture” from Michelle Garcia winner, the creator of Social Thinking. In her ILAUGH Model of Social Cognition she identifies this as one of the core social learning challenges of people who struggle with navigating the social world.

This is a concept that I have never seen discussed in any ADHD literature. Maybe it’s there, I just haven’t seen it.

Essentially what “gestalt processing” means is you have difficulty taking little piece of information, putting them together as a whole and then making meaning out of them.

Here’s what this challenge looks like in individuals with ADHD:

– Difficulty with situational awareness or what we often refer to as “reading a room”. In particular, I find this is challenging for kids with ADHD in unstructured or unfamiliar settings.

-A propensity to focus on small or irrelevant details while missing the “bigger picture”. This is particularly true in terms of reading comprehension as many kids with ADHD may struggle with summarizing but can recall random details in a chapter of a book. It also has to do with the why they have difficulty with structured writing assignments.

-It can look like sharing too few details when sharing information or giving too many details that are not relevant to the narrative. Additionally, it can look like important details being left out or stories being embellished.

-What is perhaps most relevant though is it can look like taking things out of context which can lead to many misunderstandings.

Why is this concept not talked about in ADHD literature? That’s a great question. It also leads me to ask why the foundation of social learning challenges are so infrequently talked about in ADHD literature.

Difficulty with getting the bigger picture is based in executive functioning but it also overlaps into perspective taking. For this reason, I explain to parents that these two aspects of the ILAUGH model are where the majority of kids with ADHD who struggle socially are lagging.

Many mental health professionals, educators and parents believe that kids with ADHD need to be around kids with more developed social skills so they can have positive peer role models in order to improve their social skills. As I’ve mentioned in many posts, peer modeling is a myth.

A recent study came out that indicated that there’s not enough evidence to say whether social skills groups are helpful or detrimental to individuals with ADHD. My opinion is that they’re not helpful because in the vast majority of social skills groups this skill is not addressed adequately or in most cases, at all.

What do you get when you teach social skills without teaching gestalt processing – teaching scripted “social skills” that have no context to them.

As for peer modeling -Do kids with more developed social skills teach their peers about getting the bigger picture or perspective taking? How can we expect peers to teach these skills when most adults, including those who specialize in ADHD aren’t even familiar with these concepts?

Improving social skills is not about simply reading social cues, it’s deep, it’s complex and it’s based in executive functioning. This is why improving social compentency is a very slow process, and why social skills groups are typically ineffective.

This is one of the core concepts I teach kids.

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