To follow up from my last post on recording social stories to improve ease of use by children with autism, I thought I would include some suggestions to keep in mind when you are considering creating some for your child's use. Please remember children with autism are in many respects children like all other children; having autism does not mean it is the sole cause of their behavior issues. Children with autism are capable of having inappropriate behavior for the same reasons as other children, whether environmental, learned behavior from parents, other co-existing diagnoses, personality and temperament, etc. Rather having autism presents a unique set of challenges to the child to be able to recognize inappropriate behaviors, challenge them appropriately, and develop alternatives to use.
First, identify the target behavior. Find a specific behavior you would like your child to work on, such as helping the child manage personal space by not leaning over others to see what they are reading. In this step, it often helps if you and your child, depending on their level of functioning and ability to acknowledge whether their behavior is a problem or not, can work together to identify a behavior both of you see as important. Doing so will increase the likelihood of your child finding social stories as worthwhile and relevant.
Then, gather your data on the target behavior. This is for me one of the most critical steps of the social story making process. Again, it is important that both you and your child have a clear understanding of the target behavior and what is going to be specifically targeted. For example, invading others' personal space might look something like "Barry will not lean over others' shoulders to see what they are reading"; however, the parents will record with some form of counting device each time he does it to measure frequency. Also, I highly recommend getting other care providers involved, especially if the targeted behavior occurs in a specific environment such as at school. teachers, baby sitters, counselors, etc. can also track the behavior being targeted and keep a tally to provide parents. Document all situations where the behavior occurs.
Remember!! When gathering data, also take note of all the other aspects of the child's world which may contribute to the behavior. For example, knowing that Barry is very inquisitive about books would be important to note since he is engaging in invading other people's space to read what they are reading. Some helpful questions to ask include: Does my child enjoy performing the behavior? Does the behavior occur under certain circumstances such as being asked to do something or an unexpected change in routine? Does the behavior occur when the child is refused something he wants? Does the behavior occur when the parents are not paying attention to the child? Does the child have awareness of the behavior and if so does he see it as an issue? Does the behavior occur when others are not present? What environmental factors including others' behavior impacts the behavior being performed or its existence? has the child learned this behavior from someone else?
The next most important step is to take note of your child's strengths and motivation to change, areas of need, interests, and understanding of the behavior. Without having this information you may be well-intentioned in creating a social story but if it is not relevant to the child or involves something motivational as defined by them, it will likely not be successful and may even become a source of conflict between you and your child.
Once you have your data, you can go about designing your social story. Remember there are several types of social stories including:
descriptive social stories, which are those that seek to tell about a behavior by noting who is involved, where, and what is happening during that time. "During reading time, I read a book in my own chair so I do not distract my parents by invading their personal space to read what their book.
perspective social stories, which are about feelings and others opinions. "When I invade my mother's personal space to read her book, she becomes angry at me, which leads to me losing television time".
directive social stories, which tell a child what to do. "When we read our books during reading time, we sit in our own chair and read quietly to ourselves until the timer rings".
The social story can be created using a combination of words and pictures. Make sure that the pictures used are appealing to the child and connect to the child's interests. Using pictures and images helps the child make meaning of words, one set of symbols, by using symbols they understand. The social story can be in flip-card, book, poster, or recorded format.
To use the social story, make sure you familiarize your child with it each time before you read it to them so they become accustomed to it. Explain to them why changing the behavior is important and necessary. If you are able to, you can add another dimension to the story by modeling the behavior during reading. Children learn by doing and observing; this is true for your child with autism. If they see you perform the appropriate behavior it is likely they will retain it with greater accuracy having had a concrete example. Remember it is strongly encouraged to read the story when there are minimum distractions available and to pre-empt the target behavior from occurring by reading the story prior to a situation where the behavior might occur. for example, if Barry likes reading over others' shoulders and is going to be in a doctor's waiting room where there are other people reading, you may want to read the story prior to the appointment.
Determining if your social story is working is much like the data gathering stage you went through prior to creating the story. Gather observations of your child's target behavior before and after the story has been used. Compare your observations with those of other adults who are present when the behavior is performed. Is your child retaining the information and able to use it in the future when similar situations occur? Does he have increased awareness of other's reactions to his changed behavior and is he more aware of how the negative behavior may have impacted others? What does he think of the story?
Remember! You can always modify the story based on your observations and the child's response. Once you have created a successful story, you want to consider fading it over time by having the child gain comfort reading on his own or reading the story less frequently and giving him/her the opportunity to practice handling the situation on their own. Once your child has had success with the first social story you can work together to identify other behaviors to change. Generalize the behavior to other environments such as having the child maintain personal space in other instances than just looking over their shoulders to read.
I hope this helps and you can always reintroduce a social story as needed! If you need suggestions for social stories, I would recommend looking in a book such as The New Social Story Book, for suggestions. Also ask your friends and other support providers. Good luck!