The use of social stories is an important concept within the autism community. Social stories help children on the spectrum prepare for a variety of activities, from school to the doctor to the holidays. Let’s talk more about how professionals can utilize stories to help the children on the spectrum they work with.
What is a Social Story?
Social stories are brief, generally picture-based stories that assist children on the spectrum understand what to expect in a social situation. A social story uses relevant cues and responses to help children understand how to act/respond in a particular situation. Although there are a variety of websites that offer social stories (either for free or purchase), professionals can also create their own social stories as well.
How To Create a Social Story
Creating a social story does not have to be a complex endeavor, although depending upon the situation, some stories will be more involved than others. The social story should be brief and straightforward, use language the child is familiar with, and it should be relevant to what the professional wants the child to do in the certain situation.
Start with what you want to accomplish by using the social story; for example, you might want to explain what happens at the doctors office. Print out (or draw if you are artistic) picture of a doctor and different medical tools, such as a stethoscope, for the story. If the child can read, create text to go along with the story; for non-verbal or children who cannot read, you can simply explain the pictures to the child.
Keep the description simple, but you should provide enough detail to make the child comfortable. For example, “We go to the doctor to check and make sure our bodies are healthy and okay. The doctor uses a stethoscope to check our heartbeat. He/She places the stethoscope on my chest and asks me to take deep breaths. It doesn’t hurt and it keeps me safe”. Picture examples help the child understand exactly what will happen each step of the way.
Make the Story Portable
Creating small, portable storybooks that a child on the spectrum can take with him/her is very beneficial. This not only allows the child to reference the book during the situation, but it can allow whomever the child is interacting with to actually follow along with the actions in the book, helping the child make more sense of the situation. For example, the doctor could follow the sequence of the book (since children on the spectrum are generally very literal and do not adjust well to changes in routine) to help keep the child comfortable in the doctor’s office/situation. Using laminated cards and a binder or ring to hold it together is generally the preferred method for portable social stories; professionals can also use iPads or other communication devices if this is the child’s preferred method of learning/communication.
Review the Story
Review the story several times prior to the situation; don’t expect the child to use or understand the story the first time you explain it. Reviewing the story allows you to assess the child’s level of comfort with the situation, it allows you to assess any changes necessary in the story, and it gives you a chance to explain concepts to the child. Review the story with the child at least one week prior to the event taking place; you should review the story at least every other day (if not daily) to ensure the child’s understanding and comfort level with the upcoming situation.