Back-to-school season is upon us and families are preparing for the new routines of this school year. Some children will transition easily, while others may struggle through the first few weeks. For children with autism spectrum disorders, changes in routines, transitions, and new social situations can be especially challenging. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce anxiety and promote successful transitions. In addition to visual supports, such as a list of concrete rules, check-lists, and schedules, social stories have been found to facilitate more appropriate behaviors.
This month, I was able to take a course on the use of social stories with children with pragmatic disorders, or difficulty with the social use of language. The presenter, Mary Ellen Hood, M.S., CCC-SLP, explained that children with autism, for example, do not naturally pick up on the social cues that other children learn through their experiences in school and other environments. According to Hood, social stories can help children with autism to learn appropriate behaviors for more successful participation in social situations. Specifically, social stories are designed to increase awareness of the perspectives and expectations of others in that social environment. A social story should be introduced prior to a social experience (e.g. riding the bus) and reviewed prior to each experience until the child is able to maintain socially appropriate behaviors consistently in the environment without the support of parents, teachers, or other individuals.
Social stories are written from the child’s perspective, making the given social scene relevant to the particular child. They contain a variety of statements, including factual statements, specific steps about the activity and/or desired behavior, and the desired outcome. An effective social story is one that is consistent with the goals and expectations of the child’s family. Therefore, the family’s involvement is developing social expectations and the specific language used in a social story is essential. Additionally, the social story should be relevant to the child’s specific situation, clearly and specifically explaining the social context. Social stories should provide specific descriptions of the desired behavior using positive language (e.g. “use nice words” vs. “don’t say bad words.”). Inclusion of pictures and use of specific names (i.e. “Mrs. Smith” vs. “teacher”) increase the relevancy for the child. Fill-in-the-blanks are particularly beneficial when a s. An example social story for riding the bus was provided below.
“There are many different ways to get to school. Some children ride the bus to school, some carpool, and others may walk. Each morning, I will walk to the bus stop with my brother, Joesph. I will walk on the side walk and look both ways before crossing the street. When I get to the bus stop, my friends and I will wait politely for the bus to come. I will stand in line and keep my hands to myself. That will make my friends happy. On the bus ride, I will sit and talk to my friend ______. I will stay in my seat until the bus stops at my school. This will make my bus driver, Kathy, very happy. Riding the bus to school with my friends will be fun.”