Children with autism face more challenging obstacles compared to neurotypical children when it comes to learning new skills and understanding social concepts. One of the biggest challenges for children with autism is the socializing aspect. Not only do they have difficulties with social interactions, they also have difficulties in understanding and practicing appropriate social norms and behaviours. They might be unable to pick up on social cues such as body language and social etiquettes, which results in acting inappropriately in social settings without them realizing. So, how can we effectively translate social skills to children with autism?
In today’s article, I will be shedding light onto the importance of using social stories as an effective tool to teach children with autism. Other than using it to teach social skills, there are also other uses such as teaching them concepts and skills that may not be socially related. I will also be sharing how you can utilize and maximize the potential of using social stories with children with autism effectively.
Social stories were first introduced by Dr Carol Gray in the 1990s to help children with autism to develop social skills in social settings by explicitly explaining about the expectations of a specific setting. She described social stories as short stories that depict a particular skill, concept, or situation, which aim to be easily understood by its targeted audience as it should be presented in a literal and concrete manner. For instance, using social stories to teach children with autism social norms and appropriate behaviours in different social settings. It could be teaching the expected behaviours in a library, the appropriate behaviour when queuing up to buy food, or even how to say hello to friends in school.
Apart from teaching social skills via social stories, we can also use it to teach daily living skills, self coping mechanisms, emotional management, routine changes or simply getting the child to understand a previously difficult or ambiguous situation or activity that may cause a meltdown. These are concepts and skills that children with autism may struggle with, other than difficulties with social skills. Oftentimes, they find it hard to independently complete tasks, express how they feel or think verbally, or even have problems accepting changes - especially when routines are being disrupted. Hence, social stories can play an important role to help cope with situations as mentioned by allowing children with autism to expect and be ready earlier.
In social stories, the presentation and content can be adapted to meet different child’s needs and it is usually individualized. For example, when a child lacks playing skills with friends where he is not able to share toys or request for a toy nicely from friends. The social story can be altered specifically to the similar situation. It allows the child to be in a third parties’ perspective where there could be a great opportunity to cultivate personal values such as empathy and compassion as well. Another instance could be when a child does not know how to express anger appropriately and only knows how to scream and hit. The social story can depict a scenario where a person is using ways to cope with anger, such as breathing and counting techniques to calm oneself down, and eventually using a calm voice to express how they are feeling. Thus, social stories are great to specifically target a learning skill and could be individualized.
To create a social story, there are different components that would allow children with autism to easily comprehend what is expected of them. The components include descriptive, perspective, affirmative, and directive sentences. Descriptive sentences usually answer the “why” questions in a social situation or event. They are factual and observable sentences that are free from assumptions and opinions and are used to identify the most important factors in a social situation. Perspective sentences describe the internal state of the people involved such as the beliefs, feelings, and thinking. Affirmative sentences are statements that highlight the importance of a message, value or opinion behind the specific situation, such as a rule. Directive sentences suggest a range of responses to a particular situation and direct the audience in a positive way, such as using “I will try to…” or “I can...”. Including all these to a social story is beneficial for the child to comprehend what is expected during a similar situation and also to prepare the child to be ready.
Creating social stories can be tedious since they are individualized to teach specific skills or concepts in different contexts. However, the process can be fun and satisfying. Children with autism need more time and help to successfully learn, comprehend concepts, and utilize a skill. Hence, choosing effective materials and tools is important to help them learn to their best capabilities. Social stories are useful and effective in their own ways, so I hope this article opens up new ideas to teach concepts and skills to children with autism.
Written by: Mabel Chu