To complete my series of autism-related posts, I’m going to share a simple strategy that can be effective with children who have autism and related disabilities. Priming is a behavioral strategy that can be effective with children with autism and related disabilities. Basically, it’s preparing them for what is ahead. One way to do this is through Social Stories (you can check out resources for Social Stories by Carol Gray). This is a technique that would be great for any child who demonstrates difficulty in adjusting to different scenarios and transitioning to unfamiliar situations. Social stories are written from the individual’s perspective, either by the individual himself with adult assistance or by a teacher, speech-language pathologist, parent, etc.
Suggested reasons to write a Social Story:
- Teach a child a rule (e.g. hands and feet to yourself, raise your hand to ask a question)
- Notify the child of an upcoming event that may cause some level of anxiety (e.g. a birthday party that’s at a crowded place, transition to a new school, field trip)
- Describe a social event that the child may have misread (e.g. child did not know how to properly ask peers if he could play with them, child felt rejected when groups were chosen for kickball)
A Social Story can contain just words or words paired with illustrations (photographs, computer-generated, or hand-drawn), and contain statements about how the individual may feel, how others may feel, and suggestions on how to handle a problem. The child can be read the story at home or with an adult at school to be reminded of the new strategy until he/she is using it independently. The story should be adjusted to the child’s age and cognitive abilities. For a younger child and/or a child with more significant cognitive impairments, keep the story brief and use clear photos and illustrations. For an older child and/or a child who is higher-functioning, you can use more text, describe the steps more clearly, and have the child participate in composing the story.
Social Stories are comprised of four types of sentences:
- Descriptive sentences explain where a situation occurs, who is involved in the situation, what the individuals are doing, and why they are doing it. They describe a social scenario or provide directions for completing an activity.
- Perspective sentences explain how others feel and respond to the given situation. They are designed to provide others’ perspectives.
- Directive sentences explain the responses and actions the person should ideally make in a given situation. The desired behavior is defined in positive terms. The sentences often begin with phrases like “I will try to…” “I can…”
- Control sentences explain strategies the individual will use to help him/her remember the information and strategies provided within the social story.
I always like to end a Social Story with the emotion the individuals and others may experience when a situation is handled correctly (e.g. “I will be so proud of myself!” “My friends will be so happy for me!”)
Here’s an example of a Social Story:
When I get mad, I sometimes throw things. This can scare my friends and my teacher. The classroom rule says “Keep hands, feet, and objects to myself.” That means I should not throw things. Next time I want to throw something, I can raise my hand, tell the teacher, “I am mad,” and she will let me step outside the classroom to get a drink of water. This will calm me down, and I will not want to throw things anymore. Everyone will be so proud of me!