Social stories – a visual resource used to teach desired behaviours (especially with students with disabilities). Students are stepped through desired behaviours in specific situations (such as turn-taking and making friends).
Social stories are used to teach desirable social behaviours to students with disabilities and disorders. In other words, what to do and what to say in situations that might be overwhelming, stressful, confusing or foreign. A social story is a list of steps that shows the student how to deal with a specific situation. It is usually written through the eyes of a cartoon character representing the student. Each step is comprised of a single-focused sentence and an image or drawing. In situations that cause stress and anxiety, the more rehearsed the student is, the easier it is going to be for them to follow each step (either automatically or via recall).
A social story is a list of steps that shows the student how to deal with a specific situation. It is usually written through the eyes of a cartoon character representing the student.
Common examples of social stories used with younger students include those focusing on making friends, sharing with others, sportsmanship, eating lunch and catching the bus. Appropriate social stories for older students can include those focusing on personal space, asking for help, keeping safe, shopping, dealing with bullies and avoiding confrontation. While social stories are primarily used for students with disabilities and disorders, students without disabilities can benefit from them as well. Teachers sometimes use social stories with small groups (or the whole class) for this reason. However, where specific issues are identified and need to be addressed quickly, social stories can also be used one-on-one.
Social stories are effective because:
Social stories are mostly used to instruct students with autism and other neurological disorders.i Children with autism struggle with many social aspects of their lives (including making and keeping friends). They may want to make friends, but they lack the social skills to do so in an acceptable way. Without a social story to guide them, some students might follow this common pattern of thought:
Notice that in the above steps, the student feels no need to consider the consequences of step 5. The goal from step 1 is so powerful a driver, that any punishment is considered inconsequential.
Social stories provide solutions to these situations. The first step in implementing a social story is understanding the root cause of the behaviour. In this example, a novice teacher may make the mistake of accusing the student of bullying. However, this is only surface behaviour. Treating surface behaviour may not prevent a repeat of the undesirable behaviour. The solution is to identify the root cause. In this case, the root cause is more than likely a lack of social skills combined with a high motivation to socialise. Once the root cause is established, a social story can be sourced or developed to target the issue at hand.
Social stories can be made using magazine pictures and colour cards. Alternatively, they can be made in a few minutes using a word-processing application. Try not to write more than 10-12 lines so students can easily remember the entire story. Social stories can then be laminated and hung in the classroom. There are also plenty of commercially available social stories that can be purchased online.
The standard practice for the delivery of social stories is as follows:
When first introducing a social story, don’t expect an immediate change in behaviour. It may take several repeats before the student begins to adjust their behaviour. Gradual adjustments should be rewarded to encourage continual improvement. Expect the student’s behaviour to relapse temporarily. For some students, peer learning and parental support may provide addition firepower.
Hint: social scripts are slightly different from social stories. However, most people don’t worry about the distinction. A social script specifies exactly what to say in each situation like a movie script. A social story shows what to do in each situation.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and an author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of Fast Track Training Australia, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
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