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Social stories are narratives or scripts that are designed in such a way to engage a child with autism in the story and teach him/her socially appropriate behavior and responses to a variety of situations.
Social stories can be presented in any format that appeals to the child with autism. Some children with autism listen intently and understand the stories just by hearing them. Most children, especially children with autism, are visual learners and video formats or illustrated books or cards work best with them.
What are social stories in autism?
The primary purpose of social stories is to provide instruction to a child with autism. It is an intervention that can be used to deal with problematic situations. For example, if a child is going to school for the very first time and he/she is experiencing anxiety because he/she doesn’t know what to expect, a social story that describes the school day could be helpful. By creating your own story, you can include any specifics that pertain to your child and his/her school setting.
Social stories help to prepare a child for events in advance, so they understand how to behave and how to respond to different situations.
What are examples of social stories?
There are some wonderful resources out there to teach children with autism through social stories. There are video social stories for most topics: anger, frustration, worry, fear, making friends, hurt feelings, and the list is endless. A quick search for social stories in video format will most likely give you more options than you need. Videos are one of the best ways to teach a child with autism because they tend to be highly visual learners and video presentations keep them engaged.
Videos are not the only effective visual resource. There are some great printed resources that are available as well. Many of them are available without cost. Teachers Pay Teachers have some wonderful detailed lesson plans that use social stories to teach children with autism.
One example is “How Monsters Wear Masks”. This particular topic is relevant to our current pandemic status and all of the requirements that are being placed on us that are outside of the “norm”.
“How Monsters Wear Masks” is a beautiful example of how parents and educators can use social stories to teach behaviors and responses while integrating critical thinking skills, accessing prior knowledge of a topic, new vocabulary words, writing skills, introducing new concepts, and even exercising a little bit of creativity with drawing or coloring.
“How Monsters Wear Masks” breaks this social story down into five distinct lessons.
This lesson is about accessing prior knowledge about masks and why and how masks should be worn at school. A worksheet is provided for the child to fill in or draw about what he/she knows about masks before the actual lesson is delivered.
This lesson would include reading the social story out loud to your child or to the class if this is a group lesson. To reinforce the lesson, there are discussion questions that review the story and a journal page is provided to encourage the student to make personal connections and show understanding of the topic.
This lesson is about vocabulary words that are found within the context of the social story. Each time a new word is discovered, take a moment to write the word out and explain the meaning of the word. One suggestion is to write the word on an index card and the definition on another index card and match the words with the definitions. In this particular story the vocabulary words are: mask, cover, nose, mouth, and germs.
This lesson discusses how to wear a mask properly. After describing the proper way to wear a mask, the child has a coloring page with a mask and a monster on it. The child can color the mask and the monster, cut out the mask and place it on the monster (properly) to show understanding of how to wear a mask correctly.
This lesson encourages creativity in writing. The concept of a diary or a journal is introduced and the child is asked to write what a monster might write about wearing a mask. Brainstorm ideas before setting the child to the task of writing. Make a list of these ideas and then allow the child to express them in the diary.
Why are social stories good for autism?
Social stories are good for children with autism because they teach skills in a way that they can understand. When a child can identify with a character, a feeling, or a situation it is much easier to gain his/her attention and teach, discuss, and assess what he/she knows and doesn’t know.
Social stories personalize ideas and bring meaning to what you are trying to teach. By drawing them into a social story, you can then expand on an idea and ask questions to encourage critical thinking skills with your child. Social stories answer questions and by answering them, fears and anxiety can be greatly reduced for some children with autism. Simply describing a situation that they know nothing about can be helpful at addressing fear by explaining what to expect and how to respond.
Do social stories really work?
Social stories are extremely effective for children with autism. Social stories teach in a very concrete way that most children with autism understand. Teaching self care skills, how to respond to changes, the sequence of events, or how to behave in social settings are all useful ways to use social stories, and over time these stories do make a difference with children who have autism.
Studies on the effectiveness of social stories have been carried out and the outcome is encouraging. Social stories have proven helpful in increasing prosocial behavior, increasing self regulation, increasing functional behavior, and reducing problem behaviors. Even more encouraging is the generalization of these skills across various settings. In other words, a child who learns how to clean up after a meal at home, can demonstrate that same skill at grandma’s house or at school.
Social stories are just one helpful way to teach social and behavioral skills to a child with autism. As children make the return to school, social stories can help with the anxieties that children with autism often feel by removing the mystery and preparing them for the possibilities.
At Circle Care Services, we use ABA therapy to teach children with autism. Though this is just one of the many effective therapies that can help children with autism, it has proven to help children adapt to difficult situations. Social stories are one of many ways that we teach children the skills that they need to feel increasingly better about themselves and to feel more confident in social settings.
Let Circle Care help you and your family to discover all of the ways that your child can learn the behavioral and social skills that will serve them well in school and for the rest of their lives.