An Introduction to our Social Stories
In a few weeks, my children and I will head out on the Big Road Trip. The Big Road Trip is a three-week-long journey by car through 10 states. This trip includes theme parks and national parks and family we haven’t seen in years. Nearly every day for the past several months the kids and I discussed where we will be going and what we will do there. Why have we been obsessing over it for so long? I actually have a dual-purpose for this. One, three-week long road trips take a huge amount of coordination. However, the second and perhaps more important reason for all of the trip coverage is that I am crafting our social stories to prepare the kids for something quite different from what they are used to. I’m here to tell you that social stories make all the difference in cutting down on behavior issues. This is true for my special needs pre-teen as well as my neuro-typical teenager and my preschooler.
An Example of a Social Story at work
Not long ago the carnival came to town. The boys had been anxiously waiting this moment. Every time we passed the lot where the carnival is held for the entire last year they have asked where it was and when it would be coming back. Thus when the first signs appeared announcing its return, the excitement in our house was nearly overwhelming. As soon as I determined that we were going to go, I began this dialogue with them.
When we get to the fair there will be many people and many things to do. There will be lots of lights and lots of sounds. I know that I am going to want to ride everything at once because it will be very exciting. We are taking turns choosing a ride or activity starting with the youngest to the oldest. It may be difficult to decide what to do next and that is okay. I can think about my choices while I am waiting for my turn to choose. When I decide what I want to do I will tell mom and when my turn comes around everyone will go together. This makes everyone happy. If at any point it begins to get too much for me I will tell mom and she will go with me and sit down until I feel better.
By the time we got to the carnival they were so indoctrinated to what was going to happen that we had very little problems. This is the use and the beauty of social stories.
What are Social Stories?
Social stories are narratives that describe a social situation. This could be anything from going to the store, how to clean your room, how to know if someone is upset or how to know when it is okay to hold someone’s hand. Social stories provide rules or guidelines for how to handle a given situation.
Carol Gray first coined the term Social Story in the early 90s. In fact, the What is a Social Story article on her website still gives one of the best overviews of social stories that I’ve found.
In the beginning, many of our social stories were pictorial. Joshua has Delayed Auditory Processing as well as Aspergers and as a small child, it was difficult for him to hear a story and connect it to anything without a visual cue. Thus I made a lot of picture books to illustrate ideas. In fact, if you are looking for story templates they have some great ones on the Autism Speaks website.
My other children don’t have as many issues with that and Joshua has improved to the point where most of our stories are now simply told (and retold) verbally or through song. We also still create simple text stories (and some pictures for my pre-reader) for our household expectations binder.
Who are social stories meant for?
If you were to Google social stories you would find it most often connected with specific special needs. Autism. Asperger’s. ADHD. In fact, it is through my son Joshua’s special needs that I first became aware of the use of social stories. However, I have them to be invaluable for all of my children. I think that social stories should not just be a special needs learning resource, but a childhood learning resource.
Social stories help all of my children learn about the world around them. It helps them manage my expectations and the expectations of those around them. It also helps them prepare for whatever we may have going on in our busy lives.
The use of social stories helps my teenage daughter combat stage fright when she has to sign or sing in front of a crowd. I am using them to help prepare her for the transition to her senior year and then college.
I use social stories to help Joshua understand how to know what people may be feeling when he doesn’t understand body language. They also help him calm down and consider his options before things get out of control.
The use of social stories has helped Daniel understand how our homeschool flows and what I mean when I say to pick up his toys. We also use them to teach how to behave in the grocery store or in the car.
I am using social stories to ensure that we have a fun and enjoyable Big Road Trip Adventure.
How to make a social story for your child
- What is the situation you are preparing for? This could range anywhere from preparing for an upcoming event (like in my example story), learning rules and expectations, to understanding the reactions and points of view of other people.
- What is the context around the situation? Make sure that you understand well enough to be able to describe it completely. Especially when working with ASD kids you have to be on the look out for loopholes or other flaws in your logic.
Types of Sentences
Social stories are made up of a combination of several specific sentence types. Most social stories contain at least four basic types: Descriptive, perspective, directive and affirmative. However, they can also contain cooperative sentences and control sentences.
Descriptive sentences provide information about what is going on in the situation.
When we get to the fair there will be many people and many things to do. There will be lots of lights and lots of sounds.
We are taking turns choosing a ride or activity starting with the youngest to the oldest.
Perspective sentences provide information about the child’s or other people’s perspective (depending on the type of story)
I know that I am going to want to ride everything at once because it will be very exciting.
It may be difficult to decide what to do next and that is okay.
Directive sentences tell your child what to do to have a positive outcome in the situation.
I can think about my choices while I am waiting for my turn to choose. When I decide what I want to do I will tell mom and when my turn comes around everyone will go together.
Affirmative sentences reinforce the notion that the outcome of the direction is a good one.
This makes everyone happy.
Cooperative sentences tell your child what you or someone else in the situation will do to support them.
If at any point it begins to get too much for me I will tell mom and she will go with me and sit down until I feel better.
There were no control sentences in the above story, however, a control sentence is used to help the child recall the story later. The control sentence that ended up being used in conjunction with this story was “When I decide what I want I should tell mom.”
Tips for creating your social story
- Make sure you don’t overload your story with directive sentences. Ideally, you should only have 1 directive or control sentence for every 2-5 sentences of the other types.
- Stick to one situation per story. You’re not writing a social novel. If you include too many different events in your story it will be more difficult for your child to discern which situation the direction applies to.
- Keep the tone positive. It is better to tell the child what to do to be successful rather than what not to do to keep from failing. This plays a lot into self-esteem as well as behavior successes.
- Make sure to test out your social story on your child. It is always easier to adapt the story so that your child understands it than to try to force your child into an understanding they may not have.
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