I have been asked by several special needs parents how to manage their child’s challenging behaviors. And while I will often rattle off several suggestions, one of the questions I usually ask during this process is…”Have you used social stories?”
A lot of the time, parents look puzzled and ask “What are social stories?” If you have never considered using a social story, there are many reasons that your should.
But first, what are social stories?
Social stories are “stories” that are used to teach children with disabilities social skills during a specific event or situation. They can also be used to prepare special needs children for changes or deviations in their routines. If you want to teach your child routines, provide visuals for appropriate behaviors, or help them learn in a creative way, social stories can be used for these things as well. Social stories are generally used for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder or ADHD, but they are a great tool for all children with special needs.
You can usually browse the web and find some samples, but if you cannot find what you are looking for, writing your own social story is easy and fun. This is because the wording used in social stories is very simple and straight forward.
So how do I write social stories?
To write a social story, follow these four easy steps.
- Pick a goal: You want to focus on the purpose of the social story. An example can be – riding the train.
- Outline the steps in the goal: For example, what happens during “riding the train?”
- Develop a sentence for each step: Here you will outline specifically what your child will encounter when riding the train or what behaviors you want them to display when riding the train.
- Use a picture to illustrate each step: You can either use pictures for each step or select pictures to only illustrate a few steps.
Here is sample wording for the social story, “Riding the Train.”
On Saturdays, I ride the train with mommy. I have to hold her hand at all times as we walk to the train. When we get on the train, I have to stay with mommy. Sometimes, there may be a lot of people on the train. I have to keep my hands to myself and talk in a quiet voice. When we get off the train, I will walk with mommy. I like to ride the train. Riding the train is fun!
After you have created your social story, you can add relevant pictures to it. I suggest adding real images, not clipart, so your child can actually visualize what you are trying to prepare them for. Luckily, you can find a lot visuals on the internet.
One thing to keep in mind is that social stories can be a couple of sentences or a couple of pages. The length depends on the needs of your child. However, you do not want it to be too long because you want to keep your child’s attention when reading them the story.
How to effectively use a social story
When you get ready to use your social story with your child, you want to make sure you introduce the story a good amount of time BEFORE the event occurs. In other words, you want to prepare your child way in advance (or as much notice that you have). In addition, always present the social story during your child’s down time, when they are calm and relaxed. You want this to be a positive experience so that they will associate the social story with appropriate behaviors. And here’s another tip…when you read your child the story, use enthusiasm! Do not be boring. You want them to take to what your are reading and help them to know that whatever behaviors you expect of them will be fun and entertaining.
Once you have read the social story for a few times, test it out (if time allows and hopefully it does). For example, if you created a social story for No Running in the Grocery Store, find a convenient time and read them the social story before you go to the grocery store. When you go to the grocery store, use this time to pick up one or two items. This is not the time to do your full grocery shopping. Since this is just a test, you want to see how they will respond to the social story and if they will display the corresponding behavior(s). Once you observe them in the grocery store, you will know if you need to add or delete wording in the social story, to get them to respond appropriately. If your child does display the correct behaviors, then you have success! But, I encourage you to continue to use the social story until it is time to fade the social story away.
How do I fade a social story?
When your child is displaying the appropriate behaviors or participating in the routine that you have established for them, limit the times that you present the story. For instance, if you read the social story every morning during story time, then read it every other morning or every third morning until you are no longer using the social story. However, some special needs children need to have these social stories in constant rotation to remind them of using appropriate behaviors during specific events or situations.
Should I have my child read the social story?
If your child can read, please have them read it (after you have introduced it). When children read their own social stories, they take ownership of it and they will more than likely respond quicker to the social story. In addition to having them read the social story, you can also role play with them when appropriate.
As you can see, writing a social story is easy and painless. Just follow the simple steps listed above and you can create a social story in no time. If you are still having trouble managing your child’s behavior, check out my e-book on Parenting Tips to Manage Challenging Behaviors.
Have you created social stories? What topics have you used?