Social Stories: How they can help, and ways to create and implement them!

What is a Social Story? A Social Story describes a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format.

The goal of a Social Story is to share accurate social information in a patient and reassuring manner that is easily understood by its audience. Half of all Social Stories developed should affirm something that an individual does well. Although the goal of a story should never be to change the individual’s behavior, that individual’s improved understanding of events and expectations may lead to more effective responses.

HOW CAN SOCIAL STORIES HELP MY CHILD?

Social Stories can give your child some perspective on the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of others. They help your child better predict the actions and assumptions of others. Social stories also present information on social situations in a structured and consistent manner, a particularly appropriate approach for kids with autism, especially when dealing with skills and behaviors which are so difficult to explain as those involved in social interactions. Along that line, Social Stories also give your child direct contact with social information, contact through pictures and text as opposed to speech or observation, notable areas of weakness for kids with autism. Finally, Social Stories provide a little distance between teaching and the possible stresses of the social situation itself; they give the child a chance to practice the skills often and on his terms.

HOW DO I WRITE A SOCIAL STORY?

First, pick a topic. This topic will be specific to your child’s needs. Start out with a simple topic like returning greetings or sharing with peers. Next, learn the elements of a social story. There are four types of sentences used to present this information in a Social Story:

  • Descriptive sentences address the “wh” questions: where the situation takes place, who is involved, what they are doing, & why they may be doing it.
  • Perspective sentences give a peek into the minds of those involved in the story; they provide details about the emotions & thoughts of others.
  • Directive sentences suggest desired responses tailored to the individual.
  • Control sentences are written by the child as a sentence to help remember the story/deal with the situation. These are not used in every story & are typically used only with fairly high functioning children.

While writing may be easy, it may not be best for every child (non-readers, etc.). There are a variety of options that can be used to meet the needs of children.

  • Illustrations: The child/parent/teacher can illustrate each page of the story, or photographs can be taken. These pictures can add interest & visual support for the ideas. Be wary of images that are too complex. Children with autism do not always focus on pictures as we would expect, so the pictures should be as visually uncluttered as possible.
  • Symbols: The story can include pictures representing words/ideas. For beginning readers, PECS symbols or simple drawings can be substitutes for written words not yet mastered. One large symbol can represent a complete idea on a particular page.
  • Video: A film could be made of the student & peers acting out scenes from the story. The text of the story should be edited in before the scene, & the written story presented along with the video when it is presented to the child, with the hope of eventually fading the video for the written text.

IMPLEMENTATION, MONITORING, AND FADING OUT

Prior to the introduction of a story, the story should be shared with as many people who are involved in the child’s program as possible. This can call attention to finer points that may have been overlooked when writing the story. Before the introduction of the story to the child, those who may be involved in the situation or with the skill targeted should be presented with a copy of the story. It is often helpful to actually have the child present the story to these people and have them read back or discuss the story with the child. This can help the child understand that everyone is on the same page. These other people should be encouraged to refer to the stories when the appropriate social situations arise.

A consistent schedule for reviewing each story should be maintained. At first this is typically once a day, usually right before the targeted situation (e.g. right before the bell dismissing the class to recess, if the story is about the need to take turns on the monkey bars). However, for some kids, especially during the first few readings of the story, the time just prior to the situation may be too exciting or busy to completely hold their attention for the story. For those kids, consequently, it may be helpful to read the story early in the day and then simply review the highlights prior to the activity.

The effectiveness of the story should be monitored consistently. If after a week or two of working with a particular story, there is little noticeable change, the story should be redone in order to make it successful. You will find that issues with the story will be apparent once you are using the story in daily life. The motivation behind the behavior may need to be re-evaluated. Is the story truly addressing the reasons why the child may be confused or misreading a situation?

As the child becomes more and more successful with the situations presented in a particular story, that story can begin to be faded out or changed to meet the new needs of the child. The number of review sessions can be lessened from once a day, to every other day, to once a week, to twice a month, and so on until they are no longer needed. Or the directive sentences in the story can be reduced or eliminated.

As each story is mastered, it should be kept visible in the child’s environment for review when needed. Because the stories are so personalized, they can often be favorites, something the child might want to look through on his own, even when not working on them specifically. A special basket or notebook of mastered stories is good to keep around.

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