Social Stories and ASD Intervention


By: Dr. Sapna Zarwal

Social stories are you to describe specific social situations to individuals and circumstances while promoting self coming and self management. Social stories are very effective to provide direction corresponding to a social situation.They are not meant to change behaviour rather they are meant to clarify social expectations we can use images or words to present the situation.

Social stories  were initially develop to explain social situations children with autism spectrum disorder and to help them learn socially appropriate behaviour and responses  but now used to help other children with learning and intellectual disorders also.

It is important to keep in mind that’s so stories might be less effective for nonverbal children for children with poor comprehension skills Social stories are used along with other therapies.

Social stories can be used to:

  • ·Understand how others  behave or respond
  •  To cope with change in  routine for unexpected events
  • To understand the perspective of an autistic person
  •  to develop self care skills ,social skills  and academic abilities
  • to develop self esteem by providing positive feedback
  •  manage behaviour

Some social stories are written on single sheets of paper, others are written in booklets and some are recorded onto tape or video.

As we all know people with Autism spectrum disorder face challenges in responding to social behaviour and engage in social interactions you to lack of understanding of social cues or rules. social stories can teach you social skills and help them to regulate their behaviour short sentences of phrases.

Many different intervention methods and programs have been created and used throughout the world. Such methods include the Floortime approach, relationship development interventions, the Son-Rise picture exchange communication system program, the Lovaas program, the Miller Method, verbal behavior interventions, pivotal response training, play and play therapy, music therapy, sensory integration therapy, and social stories (Westwood, 2009).Most of these methods focus on cognitive training and communication with the environment, and none focus directly on social skills. For this reason, an alternative method to improve the social skills of children with ASD is needed.

One alternative method used to teach social skills to children with ASD is the social stories method, which was created by Gray (1995, 1998) to address the social difficulties of children with autism.

Specifically, they help children with ASD to manage their behaviors by providing exact descriptions of what is going on in a story, and of when, how, and why the events described occurred. Independent studies have shown that social story intervention was efficient in improving social behaviors (e.g., Crozier & Tincani, 2006; Kuoch & Mirenda, 2003; Wright & McCathern, 2012), responding to others (e.g., Delano & Snell, 2006), emotion recognition (e.g., Bader, 2006), appropriate game-playing with others (e.g., Andrews, 2004), and modifying maladaptive behaviors (e.g., Brownell, 2002; Rust & Smith, 2006).

 Some examples  daily routine on which forces stories can be created for autistic children are

  • Moving to the Next Subject
  • Coming Home from School
  • Getting Ready for Bed

Someone is hurting or  annoying me  I will

  •  Look at them
  • Put my hand up in the  stop sign 
  •  say to the person stop it I don’t like 
  • If it does not work , I will take help from the teacher

The social stories used under Gray’s (1998, 2000, 2004) approach contain the following types of sentences:

  1. Descriptive sentences: These sentences appear at the beginning of the social stories. They describe situations and the people involved in them, what is going to happen, and the causes of events. They also address the following questions: Where? Who? What is going to happen?
  2. Perspective sentences: These sentences describe internal feelings—the sensations, wishes, emotions, attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs of people in the situations depicted. These sentences are very important because they contain information that is not available to children with ASD.
  3. Directive sentences: These sentences present social cues within situations and indicate the expected responses of individuals. Such responses may begin with “I will try” or “I will attempt.”
  4. Control sentences: These sentences are added to the story by the storyteller and describe more general observations and thoughts to reinforce the information presented in the story.
  5. Affirmative sentences: These sentences emphasize the importance of directive sentences; they begin with “It is good that . . .”
  6. Cooperative sentences: These sentences describe others’ actions, and show who these actions can help and how.

in addition, the social stories make challenging social situations understandable by omitting irrelevant information and describing essential information that helps children with ASD to better understand these situations (Scattone, Tingstrom, & Wilczynski, 2006). Furthermore, social stories reinforce autistic children’s understanding of gestures and the role of gestures in communicating emotions and perspectives (Yapko, 2003).

Generally, if children are better able to understand others’ perspectives, and predict how, where, and when behavior will occur, they are more motivated to interact with others and maintain communication.

When individuals face social roadblocks, they often need help in a new or overwhelming situation, like socializing at a birthday party, or riding the school bus for the first time. Social stories provide a boost in confidence through repetition, which makes these difficult experiences less scary, and more predictable.

The concept of Social Stories was created by Carol Gray in 1991 to use with both children and adults with autism. She hoped that it would better assist them with a variety of social situations. Although her targeted audience was people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Gray had specifically created it for those with higher communication skills. Today the use of social stories has expanded to all types of students, including those with significant communication deficits.

The expansion of social story use to include individuals on all points of the autism spectrum has helped it make the shift towards what we know today. A commonly used and interchangeable term for these stories is Comic Strip Conversations. The term comes from the visual similarity to a comic strip. Storyboards have the same visual setup, but the author has the benefit of choosing the tone of the story. The storyboard layout allows for each part or step to have its own cell, implying that each cell is its own piece of the story. It also creates a more manageable product for the students using it.

Writing a Social Story

Many stories can be used again and again for different people, but likely you will want to have a more personalized social story to help specific individuals with their own personal roadblocks. A social story is meant to be instructive and safe, so it is important not to make a typical comic or too complicated of a story. There are a few tips to consider when writing one:

  • Start with a Goal in Mind
  • Choose a Specific Situation
  • Maintain a Positive Tone
  • Use Simple Language
  • Tailor for the Individual

Start with a Goal in Mind

Writing a social story takes special consideration because the basis of the story comes from the perspective of the individual facing the social roadblock. Determine the goal of the story before beginning: what problem do you want to solve?

Is there a situation that causes her to act out or meltdown? Is there a scenario from which he tries to escape? Are there planned changes to a routine?

The answers to questions such as these make great subjects for social stories. Finding the underlying issue might require a little digging by interviewing teachers, friends, parents, and others with unique insight into the social roadblock. Once you identify the problem, you can look for ways to address it.

Choose a Specific Situation

Social stories tell the story of specific situations. If an individual has severe anxiety over a change in routine, choose one situation, such as a dental appointment, and create a simple, but detailed, story. A detailed story focuses on a few key points:

  • Social Cues
  • Appropriate Social Responses
  • What They Might See/Hear/Feel During the Event
  • What to Expect Other People to Say/Do
  • What Might be Expected of Them and Why

For Anya, the unexpected noise of the bus was difficult to process, and she wasn’t sure what to say to kids or the driver. A simple story helped her anticipate the normal bus noise, gave her suggestions of greetings for the driver and the students, and applauded her efforts for taking the step of riding the bus.

Maintain a Positive Tone

The goals of using a social story are creating a greater social awareness, offering a level of comfort and familiarity, and sometimes suggesting possible behaviors and connections. Encourage a more positive outlook and lower social anxieties by showing the individual being successful and socially engaged. For stories that deal with Daily Living Skills, the focus is on the individual and empowering them to take action for themselves. Social stories that involve interactions with other people should be approachable and reassuring. In either case, use positive language to ensure the individual feels safe and can be successful.

“The goal of a Social Story is to share accurate information using a process, format, voice, and content that is descriptive, meaningful, and physically, socially, and emotionally safe for the Audience. Every Social Story has an overall patient and reassuring tone.”Carol Gray

Use Simple Language

Keep the language simple and in the present tense, breaking down the scenario into as many smaller steps as necessary. Be very specific with possible actions and phrases. The more information, the better, but still keep the language basic.

Tailor for the Individual

Social stories come in as many lengths, styles, and varieties as there are subjects. Depending on the age of the person using the story, it may include photographs of the individual, or of actual locations or objects, for reference. For older kids or adults, more complex pictures may be used, but keep in mind the need for simplicity. Images with busy backgrounds or intricate details might be distracting, and take away from the overall lesson of the story. When in doubt, keep it simple.

The library of scenes and characters on Storyboard That is always growing, allowing for endless combinations. The characters are editable so they can be made to resemble the specific student(s) that the stories are created for. The creator can also upload their own images, which can be helpful for those students who require explicit visual representation (the car HAS to be a picture of Mom’s actual car).

Please remember for safety and privacy reasons, Storyboard That does not permit the uploading of photos of children under 13 years old.

Share the Social Story

The best time to introduce a social story is when excitement levels are low and focus can remain high. Having the individual read or present the story to family and friends generates a positive connection with the scenario. Developing confidence is the key to social story success in navigating a roadblock, so introducing a social story after a negative experience could be seen as a punishment for bad behavior, not working towards a positive goal. And, since the nature of social roadblocks may change, so may your story. Tweak as needed and often to keep current and relevant.

A study suggest that future studies or practitioners who work with children with ASD conduct a great number of sessions of the social stories intervention to considerably improve the skill of “responding to others” in children with ASD.

Dr. Sapna Zarwal
Consulting Psychologist and Special
Education Expert, New Delhi

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