If you have a child on the Autism Spectrum you have likely heard of social stories. If not, then I would urge you to do so. We all, at some time, struggle in our efforts to help our children with ASD to understand, manage and interact with others in social situations.
What is Being Communicated?
Some learners have difficulty processing verbal language/communication. We likely seldom say things the same way twice, which further complicates the understanding of the message. And how often does it involve several different ‘teachers’: mom, dad, siblings, grandparents, caregivers, therapists, teachers, educational assistants etc? Therefore this could be two (or many more) different messages for someone with ASD.
A new concept may require much repetition to be well understood. If we use a social story then the message will always be the same. The words don’t change and it doesn’t matter who is reading the story, the result is that the message is the same. Of course the autistic person may themselves be reading the story – the message is always the same. I say ‘the autistic person’ as opposed to ‘the autistic child’ because many adolescents and adults benefit from using this strategy.
How often have you said, “Why does he not understand, we have all told him over and over, so many times?” What total of “different” messages might this have been? Would this be frustrating for someone with a communication disability?
Social Story Presentation
The format or presentation of the social story may change. Especially for a young child, you may use pictures (photos, drawings, graphics) with just a few words. However, we can adapt the format as needed. For many, just words will be the most appropriate format. The size can vary from pages in a 3 ring binder to ‘business card’ size. A small business card holder is great for quick reference in a collection of “stories”
Social stories can be presented in many presentation formats; the possibilities are endless.
- on the computer
- burned on a CD or DVD
- recorded on a video tape
- recorded on an audio tape for use by a person who is visually impaired
- written in Braille
- done in a talking photo album
How to Write Social Stories
In general, for guidance on how to write the stories and how to present them I would suggest you search for information on Social Stories by Carol Gray. From my own experience, having written hundreds over 14 years I would make a few suggestions:
• Use only as much language as is necessary and be POSITIVE
• Use language you know will be understood; write for the user!
• Involve the user and/or other caregivers if appropriate
• Make sure everyone understands why and how it will be used
• Read the story several times a day if possible
• Read until no longer needed, then store for future reference!
Just recently, a young adult with ASD was asking me questions about how to handle an awkward social situation. As we talked we decided to write a social story (on the back of a business card). Additionally, she wrote it down for the other person involved who was also challenged by the situation.
There is an almost endless supply of generic social stories you could use, while adapting for your use as needed. By all means read stories available to get some ideas. Ultimately, the user will benefit most from a message written with language they understand. In addition, keep in mind the suggestions above.
In fact, a social story is perhaps the most powerful teaching strategy I have ever used while I was a special education teacher and autism consultant for 22 years. If you are living with or working with a person with communication and/or social skills needs I strongly recommend that you consider using social stories.