I love it when we have “Holy crap, I can’t believe that worked!” moments. They are admittedly rare, but sometimes you stumble across something that not only works but works so amazingly well that it’s a revelation. And the odd thing is that it may be something you’ve tried before, except now it just clicks for some reason. This time it’s social stories.
A bit of background for those of you new to the concept of social stories. Basically these are simple stories you create ahead of time or even on the fly – typically with both visuals and words – that you go over with your child as a means of rehearsing a situation that they are going to do ‘for real’. This lets you describe a situation to your child in a form that they often enjoy already – by telling a story. You can read it and talk about any pictures with your child in the same way you might Cat in the Hat.
This is a more elaborate example of a social story, but you can make them very short and simple, too. Here are a few more examples and more background on social stories. There’s even more info here (with some sales-y stuff).
Social stories serve many purposes. They can:
- Explain potentially upsetting situations to your child ahead of time in a safe, calmer environment like your home.
- Give visual references and cues that help your child understand what is happening, what is expected of them, or what they should do.
- Serve as a sort of schedule they can refer to again while they are playing out the story for real.
- Take advantage of our children’s tendencies to script things by providing a sort of script for a new situation.
- Reduce resistance to a variety of situations in general.
However, whipping up a picture-based social story on the spur of the moment is often not practical unless you have the equivalent of Dora’s backpack filled with picture cards. It often requires planning ahead and typically some computer-based method of putting pictures and text together. It can work great if you are much more organized and forward-looking than we are, but usually it’s when we’re already neck-deep in the mess that we realize we need them.
Cue now the real-life examples of necessity is the mother of invention.
The J-Man’s class recently went to a school assembly that involved a lot of song and loud noise. Not surprisingly, this isn’t his favorite thing to go do. But his teacher, ever the quick-thinking genius she is, drew on her experience with him and her seemingly radical idea to call what must have seemed like the educational equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. She scribbled out a social story on a sheet of paper in a tiny notepad. Just wrote it out by hand, no pictures. And it worked. She read it to him, he appeared to read and reread it to himself a few times, and then he started to calm down. He even seemed to enjoy himself a bit toward the end.
The story was just something simple. I don’t remember it exactly, but this is close enough to get the gist of it.
The J-Man is going to an assembly in the gym.
Assemblies are loud.
People will be singing at the assembly.
Assemblies are fun!
At the bottom of the paper but folded over and hidden from view was “Finished”. When the assembly was over, she unfolded it, showed him “Finished”, and he got up and the class went back to their room.
I thought the success of this might knock us all flat. I didn’t think a social story would do much for him yet, regardless of whether it had words, pictures, videos, or feel-good drugs mixed in with the paper. The fact that a few simple sentences handwritten on a little notepad worked feels like me suddenly being able to bench press an airplane.
And if that don’t beat all, this has kept working, too. Our developmental therapist was with Mary on one of our ‘let’s go practice being in public’ trips to the store. The J-Man refused to go into the store and had a pretty major meltdown from what I heard. Being the resourceful, think-on-your-feet type she is, our DT typed out a social story on her cell phone and showed it to him. She read it to him, he read it to himself, and it worked.
Then at the pool the other day for our class field trip, the J-Man really didn’t want to go to the changing room with me to put on his dry clothes to go home in. He didn’t want to leave the pool either, but Dale Jr was seriously ready for a nap and we had to go. One of his teaching assistants had the inspired idea (sensing a theme here!) to write out a social story about it being time to go. We didn’t have any paper, so she wrote it out using a colored marker and the back of a pizza box. I kid you not. Basically it more or less said, “Pool is all finished. Time to change clothes. Then time to go home.” It worked.
I’m not sure which of these situations was more amazing. To say that I am still awestruck by this is an understatement.
So I’m crazily experimenting with iPod note apps that let you tinker with font sizes and save a library of notes so we can always have social stories ready. If this proves to be the key to overcoming all sorts of issues we’re having, I may start weeping with joy uncontrollably.
Here’s one I whipped up yesterday morning when he wouldn’t get out of bed. I typed this up on my iPod Touch in about 30 seconds. This is a screen shot.
He kinda laid there in the bed on his side and read it, looking rather thoughtful about it. After about a minute of motionlessly staring at it, he finally got out of bed and on we went.
Social stories don’t work that well or at all for some kids, at least not without a lot of practice. There’s often a disconnect, especially early on, where the child doesn’t make the connection that the story has a direct relationship with what’s going to happen in their lives.
When we were part of a research study last year, they sent us an illustrated social story booklet about what would happen during our visit. The J-Man loved reading it, but seemingly had no inkling that it was any different from the books he normally reads nor did he show that he made any connection between the story and the research study building when we got there. But that seems perfectly normal. Social stories take practice to integrate into daily life. I have for a long time viewed social stories as a neat idea and worth experimenting with, which we did, but not terribly applicable to our lives. Boy has that changed now.
We’ll keep you posted.
Anyone have experience with social stories that you want to share?