This post was written by Audrey Simmons. The focus for the blog this month is Autism. Audrey is the older sister of a sibling with Asperger’s Syndrome and is in the process of having her two oldest sons evaluated– she is also on the high-functioning end of the spectrum (undiagnosed) and was Kathleen’s first exposure to Asperger’s. She is not a doctor or a trained medical professional and all her writing comes from personal experience and is not in any way intended to replace or act as that of a medical professional. Please take what you find useful and understand that it’s simply one parent to another!
A few months ago, we talked about play-acting to prepare kids for situations like Sunday school or the grocery store. Today, we’re talking about Social Stories, another way to prepare kids for situations or to address behavior problem areas. I was recently listening to the Autism Toolkit Podcast, a show that unfortunately only had two episodes (but both are excellent!). One of the things they talk about is a “social story,” a concept I was a little familiar with because it’s helped my brother before.
A social story is a visual illustration of how to behave in a situation– it can be a place (like the library) or a conflict (like being frustrated about sharing a toy). The social story only illustrates what should happen, not any “wrong” alternatives. Some kids might appreciate the humor in seeing illustrations act out bad behavior, but the goal of a social story is to communicate what is expected or anticipated for a child who needs visual, not aural, language. You want only the appropriate behavior to be available to “stick.”
Here’s one of the results if you google social stories:
Later in the morning of the day I listened to the podcast, we went to a friend’s house for our little local homeschool group. I had not prepared my boys for the fact that another adult would be there (the friend’s sister) and my boys were having a super hard time adjusting– hiding under furniture, moaning, yelling, running around instead of listening, thrashing around and shouting when addressed directly.
I took them into another room, got a piece of paper, and drew a rough stick figure outline of what was happening and our schedule. With the visual explanation, they understood both what was happening and what was expected of them. I’d be lying if I said their behavior was “perfect” after that (but that’s not realistic for childhood anyway, right?), but they became much more receptive and were able to sit down and listen to stories and participate in snack.
You don’t have to be an artist to use social stories. If you google “social stories,” and look at images, there are lots of great examples and you might even find something that fits your current need. Living Well With Autism has a whole page of social stories for self-care and grooming. If you have a child that you’ve explained things to many times, but they keep “forgetting” a step or a routine, it might actually be that you are expecting a level of understanding that they lack the visual picture to remember.
Another option is to create social stories for yourself. Even simple stick figures can do the job (the social story I made at my friend’s house got left behind and she couldn’t figure out what it was later; when I mentioned it, she said, “Oh! That’s what that was!”). What’s important is being able to communicate visually with your child to prepare them, not to create artwork for display.
Some social stories might be used in a moment to explain a change in schedule and avoid a meltdown. Some social stories might be things you use to prepare and review for outings or habits. Try one today!