How To Write Social Stories

What is a Social Story?

A social story is a simple method that may be used at home, school, or in the community to teach or maintain social skills, daily living skills, or behavior management skills of kids with Aspergers and High Functioning Autism (HFA).

A social story addresses specific situations by teaching the child appropriate behaviors and responses (e.g., how to cope with changes in routine, how to get along with peers, how to work in the classroom) and provides (a) an explanation of detailed social information (e.g., guidelines for waiting a turn in conversation, sharing, or demonstrating good manners), and (b) desired responses instead of problem behaviors.

The purpose of a social story is to:
  • address a wide variety of problem behaviors (i.e., aggression, fear, obsessions)
  • break goals into easy steps
  • correct child responses to a social situation in a nonthreatening manner
  • describe social situations and appropriate responses
  • help the child cope with both expected and unexpected transitions
  • personalize instruction
  • teach routines for better retention and generalization

How to Write a Social Story—

1. Identify the target behavior you wish change or maintain. Focus on writing the social story about the behavior you want the Aspergers or HFA child to learn or increase (e.g., Kyle’s obsession is “trains.” He focuses on trains to the exclusion of doing homework, and his grades are suffering as a result).

2. Define the target behavior and collect data. To make sure that the social story is effective, parents and the child need to have an identical understanding of what behavior is being targeted. This means that specific descriptive and measurable information must be noted (e.g., to measure the number of times Kyle engages in inappropriate conversations about trains, the parent puts a tally mark for each time that he initiates a conversation about trains).

3. To develop an effective social story, (a) gather information about the child’s interests, abilities, impairments, and motivating factors, (b) observe situations that often present problem behaviors, (c) ask the child for his perspective of the specific target behavior, and (d) determine the topics for the social story.

Example questions to determine the target behavior include:
  1. Does it appear as if the child enjoys performing the behavior?
  2. Does the behavior ever occur following a request to perform a difficult task?
  3. Does the behavior ever occur when the child wants to get a toy, food, or activity that he has been told he can’t have?
  4. Does the behavior occur whenever the adult stops paying attention to the child?
  5. Does the behavior occur when the child is calm and unaware of anything else going on around him?
  6. Would the behavior occur repeatedly in the same way for very long periods of time, if no one was around?

Formula for Developing a Social Story—

The three types of sentences in a social story are:

1. Descriptive – tells where situations occur, who is involved, what they are doing, and why (e.g., "During Homework Time, me and my brother are in our separate bedrooms sitting at our desks. We are either reading or writing so we can get our assignments done before T.V. Time).

2. Perspective – describes the reactions and feelings of the child and of others (e.g., "When I talk about trains instead of doing homework, it makes me get poor grades in Math and Spelling, which makes my mom and the teacher unhappy").

3. Directive – tells the child what to do (e.g., "When I want to talk to my mom or brother about trains, I will have to wait until Free Time").

Photographs, hand-drawn illustrations, or pictorial icons can help aid in the child's understanding of the social story (although some children may be distracted by pictures or may have difficulty generalizing from a picture).

Social stories can be written in book format, bound or placed in a notebook. However, they can also be written on poster board, cardboard, laminated paper, or on a chalk-board.

Using the Social Story in a Real Life Situation—

1. Read the story to the child in a location with few distractions.

2. Briefly explain the importance of a social story (e.g., Discuss with Kyle the importance of completing homework).

3. Read through the story once or twice and, when necessary, model the desired behavior (e.g., After reading with Kyle his social story about waiting for Free Time to talk about trains, the parent pretends to be the brother who comes into Kyle’s room. Kyle is encouraged to tell his brother that he is doing homework and will play later).

4. If needed, create a schedule for the child in which the story is read at the same time and in the same way each time.

5. If needed, read the story just prior to a situation in which the problem behavior is likely to occur (e.g., If Kyle’s problem with talking about trains occurs mainly during Homework Time, it may be helpful to read the social story right before Homework Time each day).

6. Consider providing opportunities for the child to read the social story to other children or adults.

How do you know if the Social Story is working?
  • Observe the child’s behavior and comments when the story is presented.
  • Conduct ongoing data collection on the child’s behavior.
  • Compare your observations to those of others.
  • Collect data now that the story has been implemented and compare the data to the previous data.
  • Determine if the child has acquired, generalized, and maintained the new behavior.

What should you do if the Social Story is NOT working?

If the child has not responded to the social story after an appropriate length of time (varies by target behavior and the time each child requires to learn a new skill), review the social story and how it has been used. If modifications are needed, change only one aspect of the social story at a time (e.g., Change when the story is read. Do not change the words of the story or who reads the story. This helps determine what aspect of the social story works and does not work).

What should you do if the Social Story IS working?
  • Let the social story fade away slowly by extending the time between readings or having the child read the story independently.
  • Work with the child to identify new social skills to address.
  • Create new social stories that address other targeted behaviors.
  • Help the child continue to generalize new behaviors (e.g., The parent could help Kyle generalize “staying focused on homework” rather than the “train obsession” in situations outside of the home, such as school or Boy Scouts).
  • Reintroduce the previous story as needed.

Summary—

A social story helps children with Aspergers and HFA acquire, generalize, and maintain social skills that make them more successful at home, school, and the community.

1. Identify the target behavior.

2. Write the social story taking care that the vocabulary matches the child's age, reading, and functioning level. If possible, write the story with the child.

3. Include any combination of descriptive, perspective, directive, or control sentences.

4. If needed, use pictures, photographs, or icons to aid comprehension.

5. Construct the social story out of materials appropriate for the child’s developmental level using cardboard, poster board, laminated pages, etc.

6. Provide an appropriate routine for the social story to be read.

7. If the child does not appear to be responding to the social story, adjust the content of the story and/or the child's access to the social story.

8. Fade the social story when the desired outcome is maintained and reintroduce if needed (some children may continue to rely on a social story for an extended period of time).

Examples of Social Stories:

The Lunch Room

My school has many rooms. One room is called the lunch room. Usually the children eat lunch in the lunch room. The children hear the lunch bell. The children know the lunch bell tells them to line up at the door. We have a line to be fair to those who have waited the longest. As each person arrives they join the end of the line. When I arrive I will try to join the end of the line. The children are hungry. They want to eat. I will try to stand quietly in the lunch line until it is my turn to buy my lunch. Lunch lines and turtles are both very slow. Sometimes they stop; sometimes they go. My teacher will be pleased that I have waited quietly.

Standing Too Close

Sometimes I talk to the other children in my class. The other children don't like when I stand very close to them. When I stand too closely, it makes my friends feel crowded. If I stand too close, other children sometimes get mad at me. I can back up and stand three feet away from my friends when we talk. It makes my friends happy when I stand three feet away when we talk.


Don't have time to write a social story?  No problem!  We have some for you here in video format. Just sit with your child at the computer and watch them together.

==> Click here for the videos...

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