Here’s a Method To Help Your Child De-Code the Social World
One of the key characteristics of the autism spectrum can be summed up in the term, Theory of Mind.
A neurotypical individual is able to distinguish between what s/he is thinking, feeling, believing and what someone else is thinking, feeling, and believing. S/he has a mental map to understand a myriad of social situations and to be able to read and predict others ‘ thoughts and intentions.
Psychologists, speech therapists, and other professionals have been studying ways to help children on the autism spectrum develop their theory of mind.
There is one method that shows some promise with helping children develop some of the understanding needed to navigate the social world.
(A word of caution: there are mixed results in the research as to the effectiveness of social stories, due to the lack of many research studies in this area. However, I also balance this out with the fact that this autism research website found it to be a promising behavioral intervention).
Researchers don’t know exactly how this method works, but they think that this method:
may improve social problem solving in general
may help organize social ideas and cues that were previously disorganized
and may reduce the social anxiety of social relationships
This method is called Social Stories.
Dr. Carol Gray originated this method in order to help children on the autism spectrum make better sense of the world around them.
Social Stories Defined
Here is an excerpt from Dr. Gray’s own website explaining what a social story is:
A Social Story™ describes a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format. The goal of a Social Story™ is to share accurate social information in a patient and reassuring manner that is easily understood by its audience. Half of all Social Stories™ developed should affirm something that an individual does well. Although the goal of a Story™ should never be to change the individual’s behavior, that individual’s improved understanding of events and expectations may lead to more effective responses.
And here’s a definition from Wikipedia:
Social Stories are short stories written or tailored to an autistic individual to help them understand and behave appropriately in social situations. The stories have a specifically defined style and format.
They describe a situation in terms of relevant social cues, the perspective of others, and often suggest an appropriate response. They may also be used to applaud accomplishments; roughly 50% of all Social Stories are targeted to be used for this reason.
How to Create a Social Story
Pick a Topic
You can create a social story for as many situations as you come across in the course of a day. Here’s a list of examples of what you could write social stories for:
in the community
sports and games
dating (for adolescents)
making transitions from one activity to the other.
Think About These Guidelines
Consider Your Child’s Reading and Comprehension Level
When writing the story, you want to write it from your child’s point of view, in his/her words, and in language that he/she can understand.
You will be writing your child’s social story in the first person, and from your child’s point of view.
In the words of Dr. Carol Gray:
“Do keep in mind that at least 50% of all the Stories developed for any person should congratulate or applaud current skills/abilities/personality traits/ or concepts that the person does well.”
Use These Types of Sentences
These sentences describe the Who, What, and Where of the particular situation the story is about. You are painting a picture about the situation so that the child can recognize the situation.
These sentences cue the child to appropriate social responses to the situation that the story is describing.
These sentences describe characters’ possible feelings or responses.
These sentences often refer to a law or a rule or commonly shared opinion for particular situations.
Describe how other people will help out in a given situation
Review With Your Child
Read the story together. You can then act out the story, playing different characters. Maybe you can even play your child, while you child plays a different character. Some research into the effectiveness of social stories suggests that it’s helpful for the child to review the story multiple times, until the responses in that particular situation become second nature.
Here’s an Example of a Social Story
This social story comes from one of my favorite sites for teaching resources for children on the autism spectrum, Polyxo.Com: Teaching Children With Autism:
When I Feel Angry
[ by Michele Gardner ]
Sometimes I feel angry.
All people feel angry at one time or another.
When I get angry I will find my teacher, Mommy, Daddy or another adult.
When I find them I will try to use words to tell them that I am angry.
I can say “I’m angry!” or “That makes me mad!”
It is okay to use words when I feel angry.
They will talk to me about what happened and about how I feel.
This might help me to feel better.
Wherever I am I can try to find someone to talk to about how I feel.
Dr. Gray has found that social stories can be effective for adolescents and adults on the autism spectrum as well. The stories will be more complex, consistent with telling the story from the person’s point of view, in the present tense, using their reading and comprehension levels.
Helpful Social Stories Websites:
Polyxo: Teaching Children with Autism
Kids Can Dream Autism Website
Autism Social Stories
Helpful Social Stories Books
The New Social Story Book, Revised and Expanded 10th Anniversary Edition: Over 150 Social Stories that Teach Everyday Social Skills to Children with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, and their Peers
The Social Skills Picture Book Teaching play, emotion, and communication to children with autism
The Hidden Curriculum: Practical Solutions for Understanding Unstated Rules in Social Situations
Writing and Developing Social Stories: Practical Interventions In Autism
photo credit: woodleywonderworks on Flickr
I hope you found this article to be helpful. Please leave your comments below. If you have suggestions of other helpful sites and resources, feel free to share them as well!
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