Once Upon a Social Story

Many children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder often have deficits related to critical social communication skills. Critical social communication skills include joint attention, social reciprocity, social cognition, language and related cognitive skills, as well as behavior and emotional regulation.

According to American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:

Deficits related to joint attention include:

  • -Impaired monitoring of social states
  • - Restricted range of communicative functions to seek engagement and comfort from others
  • -Limitations in considering another's intention and perspective

Deficits related to social reciprocity include:

  • -Difficulty initiating and responding to peer interactions
  • -Difficulty engaging in appropriate turn taking

Deficits related to social cognition include:

  • -Difficulty managing emotions
  • -Difficulty appreciating the perspective of others
  • -Difficulty using intrapersonal skills

Deficits related to language and related cognitive skills include:

  • -Difficulty understanding body language, facial expressions, and gestures
  • -Limitations in conversations including, not understanding social norms of conversations, problems taking turns talking, fixating on one topic and not showing interests in others view points and topics of conversations
  • -Difficulty understanding figurative language and expressions

Deficits related to behavior and emotional regulation include:

  • -Difficulty dealing with change of routines
  • -Difficulty managing emotions often engaging in tantrums, aggression, or eloping from situations in order to avoid or escape the situation
  • -Anxiety or social with drawl
  • -Repetitive patterns of behavior such as scripting or echolalia

It is important to note that not all people diagnosed with ASD will exhibit all of these deficits. Each individual person’s deficits will vary. Neurotypical children typically acquire these social skills by observing others but children with ASD often struggle at developing these social skills. As stated by Okada, Ohtake, and Yanagihara, “Children that don’t develop these social skills often engage in behaviors that are not socially acceptable within a given place, situation, culture, or age range, which places them in a socially marginal position. Given the importance placed on engaging in appropriate social skills, challenges in this area have the potential to lower a person’s quality of life. Therefore, it is imperative to ameliorate these difficulties by trying to describe the complicated social world in a way that takes into consideration the unique way individuals with ASD learn and come to understand.”

In 1990, Carol Gray, a special education teacher in Jenison, Michigan, began writing her students social stories to share information that she thought they were missing in their everyday life. Carol noticed that after she began sharing her social stories with her students their daily lives and responses to everyday situations remarkably improved.

Social stories are short stories that describe a social situation, skill or experience using terms and social cues that are related to appropriate social behavior. Stories are written with the goal of teaching a child how to behavior appropriately in a specific situation and enhance their understanding of various social situations. Social stories are written pertaining to a specific social situation and can discussed separately from when the situation typically occurs. By reading and discussing these social situations, outside of when they are occurring, the child will be able to pause and think about the situation. The child can then discuss or ask any questions they may have regarding the social situation. Then in the future when a child is in that specific social situation the parent, care giver, teacher, or therapist, can stop the situation, remind the child of the social story and how to behavior appropriately in the given situation.

Social stories should be written in a way that helps the child understand the social concept. The story should be short, can include pictures, and can be written specifically for the child. The story can even include the child’s name. In order to accurately implement the story, the story should be read on a daily basis and should be integrated with the child’s behavior support plan. Another way to use social stories is to create a multimedia social story.  A study was published in the Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology to evaluate the effectiveness of multimedia social stories. The participants in the study were three children with had been clinically diagnosed with autism. At the end of the study, it was determined that “the multimedia social story interventions were effective in increasing the duration of appropriate social engagement of all children participated in this study.”

So where can I find social stories to read to my child? The internet is a great resource with lots of social stories and information pertaining to social stories.

Child-Behavior-Guide.com offers a variety of prewritten social stories which can be downloaded and printed. The website also gives tips for writing your own social story!

Autismspeaks.org creates their social stories using Powerpoint. The stories are then available for download and are customizable for your child! Once in Powerpoint you can add your child’s name to the story or even modify the story to better fit your child’s needs.

I previously worked with a child who would get very angry and become aggressive. I wanted to work on developing strategies for what he can do when he becomes very angry as well as alternative behaviors he can engage in to let out his frustration. I searched the internet and found a social story called, “The Angry Monster in Me” I then typed the social story in Microsoft Word and then added pictures. Next, I printed the book in color, laminated each page and bound it like a book using ribbon. My client really enjoyed listening to his special social story that I created for him. He was excited to tell his mom about the story we had read and what he was working on. In future sessions, he would even refer to not letting the angry monster in side of him come out.

You can download the social story here.