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Why Social Stories are so Important for Children with Autism
As parents, we use casual phrases with our children that are largely second nature: “quiet voices,” “no touching,” and “play nice.” But what do these phrases really mean to a child with autism? Social situations and the accompanying expected set of behaviors are challenging for children with autism, and “play nice” simply doesn’t offer all the information a child needs to respond appropriately. Luckily, the concept of social stories was discovered in the early 1990s, and these stories are crucial to your autistic child’s development.
What are Social Stories?
Social stories are an easy and effective way of teaching appropriate behaviors to children with special needs, by using written or visual cues that help guide children who struggle to navigate unfamiliar social situations, whether on the playground, at the doctor’s office, or even in the classroom. The applications of social stories are limitless and can be catered to your child’s comprehension and needs. Social stories are typically broken down into several steps with descriptive words and terms that best communicate the social situation.
How to Write a Social Story
Social stories can be words and pictures, and they are designed to help autistic children not only know what to do in a given situation but also help them gain better understanding about how others feel and why they should respond with a specific behavior.
The sentences can include things about how other people feel, such as, “My sister likes it when I tell her good morning.”
They should also include sentences about what action the child should take, such as, “Each morning I will try to say good morning to my sister.”
Additional sentences can help reinforce and motivate the behavior. “When I say good morning to my sister, it makes her happy.”
An excellent guide to social stories for autistic children can be found in Autism Parenting Magazine.
Social Story Example: Saying Hello to the Teacher
When a child with autism starts school, he or she may not intuitively understand the social norms that accompany the experience. Helping your child through some of these anxiety-inducing moments can help. For example, if your child struggles with how to engage with his or her teacher, try a social story for greeting the teacher each day:
My teacher is there to help me learn. When I get to school in the morning, she will say hello to me and act happy to see me.
I will try to say, “Hello” or “Good morning” to her each day when I get to school.
At the end of the day when it is time to go home, I will try to say, “Goodbye” or “Bye” to my teacher.
My teacher will say goodbye to me, too.
When I say hello and goodbye to my teacher, it makes her happy.
People like to be happy.
How do Social Stories Benefit a Child with Autism?
Social skills are an important piece of your child’s development, but children with autism benefit so much from social stories. Social stories will help your autistic child:
- Better understand and follow rules and routines
- Gain insight into the perspectives of others
- Encourage the identification of important cues
- Promote better self-awareness
- Understand how their behavior impacts others
Social Stories Capitalize on Strengths
Avoiding negativity is particularly important to parents of children with autism; so much of what these children hear from others is “don’t.” Social stories are specifically designed to capitalize on the strengths of children with special needs, and they provide a golden opportunity to offer positive feedback for proper behavior. Social stories assist with transitions, which are difficult under any circumstance, and help children sift through their emotions.
It is every parent’s hope that their child will be accepted by their peers, be able to build friendships, and find success in social situations. Social stories help children with autism do just that, encouraging them to participate in group activities without fear. Life doesn’t offer a script, but social stories allow children with autism to learn how to navigate social situations with minimal stress. Your child should never have to miss out on an opportunity, and with this useful tool, they won’t have to.