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Defining Social Stories
The concept of social stories was developed and trademarked by Carol Gray, an author who has extensive knowledge of Autism Spectrum Disorders such as Asperger's Syndrome. Social stories for Asperger's children are a tool for teaching social skills to children diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and autism, as well as other disabilities. Social stories are designed to help those who struggle with social interactions and behaviors learn how to conduct themselves when faced with an event that is either stressful or unfamiliar. Social stories are very useful for students who present with social and communicative impairments. They can also be effective tools for teens or adults who struggle in social situations.
Social stories give the student accurate information about certain situations that can be socially challenging or confusing. The story describes a similar situation in detail and illustrates important skills such as appropriate social cues that a person might naturally use in that situation. The social story also describes suitable actions and reactions that might be expected of the child in a similar situation. The stories also suggest appropriate responses to the situation reviewed in the story. The goal of a social story is to increase a student’s understanding of various situations, thus increasing the student’s comfort level when that situation occurs.
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An example of a social story that can benefit a child with social challenges is one that explains the behaviors and rules that should be followed when the class has a guest speaker. Because children are often unsure of how to act when they are faced with unfamiliar events, a teacher, parent, or counselor can write a social story that briefly and concretely describes what the child should expect to encounter.
The story could be structured as follows: "Tomorrow, Jonathon’s mother, Mrs. Smith, is going to come to our classroom to read the group a story. We sit quietly in our seats while a grown-up is reading to us. I may want to ask Mrs. Smith a question about the story, but it is important to wait until she has finished reading. I will try to sit still and listen quietly to the story. After the story has been read, if I still have a question, I will raise my hand to get Mrs. Smith’s attention. Once Mrs. Smith looks at me and calls out my name, I may ask a question."
This simple social story reminds the child that it is not polite to leave his or her seat or to interrupt while someone else is speaking, even if the child is eager to make a comment. It describes how the student should wait patiently as the story is read, then raise a hand after the story is completed if there is still a question. The student also learns to wait for the parent to look his way then call on him before he answers a question. This is just the kind of detail that should be provided in social stories.
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Developing a Social Story
There are several ways in which a social story can be presented to a child who struggles with appropriate social behaviors. Children who are primarily visual learners may benefit most from social stories that include simple illustrations or photographs along with the text. Picture symbols can also be used to highlight certain parts of the text. Some children learn best through listening and are able to read along with a social story that is audio recorded. Those who are not yet proficient readers can practice a social story with an adult by acting it out on video or by using puppets or dolls as characters.
What follows are some examples of specific situations that can be addressed using social stories.
--Helping a student deal with transitions, such as changing classes or going to the cafeteria.
--Introducing new situations, to prepare the student for a situation such as meeting a new person.
--Changes in routines -- school schedules are not always set in stone. There are unexpected programs, such as school assemblies and fire drills. Social stories can demonstrate to the student how to react when there is a sudden or unexpected change in routine.
--Making choices -- if a student has difficulty making decisions, such as selecting food items at lunch, a social story can demonstrate how this can be done efficiently.
--Understanding behaviors -- a social story can explain why individuals act certain ways in different situations in order to help understand particular behaviors.
--Learning appropriate behaviors -- if a student behaves inappropriately, such as participating in self-stimulating behaviors, the behavior can be specifically addressed in a social story.
--Dealing with emotions -- it can be difficult to deal with feelings such as frustration and anger, but a social story can illustrate a specific situation where a student gets angry, yet maintains control of her temper and responds appropriately.
--Describing the thoughts and feelings of others. For example, “the teacher felt sad when the student continued to interrupt her class".
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When developing social stories for Asperger's children, it is important to outline the concepts in a simple and straightforward way, as children with Asperger's and other autism spectrum disorders usually have difficulty comprehending abstract ideas. When written and used properly, social stories for Asperger's children are a great mechanism for helping them become more comfortable with their roles in everyday social interactions.