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.
Although every person with ASD is unique they certainly all, to some degree, have challenges with communication and social skills, which of course so very interrelated themselves!
When we use verbal communication to teach/explain anything we are often confronted by the difficulties the learner has with processing language; further complicated by the fact that we seldom say it the same way twice. And how often does it involve several different ‘teachers’? (mom, dad, siblings, grandparents, caregivers, therapists, teachers, educational assistants etc) This could be two (or many more) different messages for someone with ASD. We also know how much repetition might be needed before a new concept might 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 message is the same. Of course the person with ASD may themselves be reading the story – the message is always the same!
How often have you said, “Why does he not understand, we have all told him over and over, so many times?” How many “different” messages might this have been? How frustrating would that be for someone with a communication disability?
I say ‘the person with ASD’ as opposed to ‘the child with ASD’ because many adolescents and adults benefit from using this strategy. The format or presentation may change. For a young child you may use pictures (photos, drawings, graphics) with just a few words. This can be adapted 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 collection of ‘stories’ can be kept in a small business card holder for quick reference! They can be done 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. The possibilities for format and presentation are endless.
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 for the past 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). She then decided to write it down for the other person involved who was also challenged by the situation.
A social story is perhaps the most powerful teaching strategy I have ever used! I was a special education teacher and autism consultant for 22 years; retired seven years and still writing them!