Social Stories – Speech Therapy Today

In the Issue 8 edition of Speech Therapy Today, dated 2nd February 2009, Social Stories are considered as an approach to teaching social skills.

Social stories were originally developed for students with autism by Carol Gray but are now an increasingly popular strategy for increasing social skills not only in children with ASD but also with children and adults with social skills difficulties.

Social Stories are stories that have been written in a specific style and format.  They describe what happens in a specific social situation and present information in a structured and consistent manner.  They give information through pictures and text and each story provided clear, concise and accurate information about what is happening in a specific social situation.  The story describes what people do, why they do it, and what the common responses are.  It is therefore a way of explaining how to behave in a socially acceptable way without having to rely upon ‘telling them’.

So the purpose of a Social Story is:

  • to provide the person with a prompt for socially acceptable behaviour;
  • to help them become familiar with a situation, and to respond appropriately;
  • to help prepare for a new experience;
  • to provide positive feedback so that people can recognise their own appropriate behaviour;
  • to help prevent extreme reactions that stem from a lack of social understanding.

Below is an example of how a Social Story might look.  This particular story was written for Simon, aged 7, who became very agitated when his mother turned on the bath taps.

Why It Is OK To Run A Bath

In my bathroom there is a bath, a toilet and a basin.
The bath and the basin have taps.
It is important for people in my family to have a bath sometimes.
Sometimes Mummy likes to have a bath.
Sometimes Mummy likes Simon to have a bath.
It is OK for Mummy to turn on the taps when she needs to run the bath.
Mummy is safe when the taps are on.
Simon is safe if Mummy turns on the taps.
Simon’s house is safe if Mummy turns on the taps.
I will try to let Mummy run a bath.
I will try to remember we are safe when Mummy runs a bath.

As you can see, the story is short and straightforward and helps Simon understand what is expected in this situation.  But why do Social Stories work?  What makes them so successful, particularly for children with autism?

Social Stories attempt to address the ‘Theory of Mind’ impairment by giving individuals some perspective on the thoughts, emotions and behaviours of others.  As we know, many people with autism do not act appropriately in social situations because they do not understand that others might have a different opinion to them, or that others may want to do something different to what they want to do.  Social situations can therefore become unpredictable and confusing.  Social stories therefore help the child to better predict the actions and assumptions of others.  Social stories also present information on social situations in a structured and consistent manner, using pictures and text, a particularly appropriate approach for people with autism.  Social Stories also provide a little distance between teaching and the possible stresses of the social situation itself, giving the child a chance to practice the skills often, and on their own terms.

And finally, if you get it right, you will see results within 2 to 3 weeks.

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