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Children with autism spectrum disorders are prone to violent outbursts due to their inability to communicate their feelings. Understandably, this can be a very unpleasant experience for the recipient of their attacks whether they are peers or strangers, and can bring about uncomfortable consequences for the people involved. 

Fortunately, social stories can prove to be an effective solution to discourage socially unacceptable behaviors in children with ASD or other disabilities. Through the usage of vivid imagery and simple language, they provide a simulation of real-life situations that will teach these children how to appropriately handle similar circumstances. 

This article seeks to provide insight on the different ways social stories are used to help children with behavioral issues and provide ideas on how to create and tell your story to an audience of such children as a part of behavioral improvement lessons. If you are struggling with behavioral issues in special needs children, read on to find out how you can turn yours as well as their situation around! 

What Purpose Do Social Stories Serve?

As mentioned before, special needs children have trouble with their social skills due to the way they process different information compared to regular children. This might lead them to engage in behaviors that are deemed socially inappropriate. Hence, a social story can help these children learn generally anticipated social etiquettes, resolve disputes that occur in their relationships, and help them to understand the way other people may react to different situations.

Therefore, social stories are a great way to teach children how to behave correctly when handling specific situations such as: 

  • First encounters (For e.g meeting a new person or getting on a boat for the first time).
  • Changes to their way of life (For e.g. moving to a new neighborhood or school).
  • Introduction to a timetable (For e.g. nap times, meal times)
  • Etiquette in a social situation (For e.g. waiting for their turn, being polite to and generous with others, remaining attentive in class, maintaining silence in a museum)
  • Certain behavioral issues (For e.g. dealing with bullies, feeling the urge to resort to violent or self-injurious behavior)

How Can Social Stories Be Beneficial?

Now, you already know that social stories are a medium through which an unfamiliar notion is introduced and explained to children. However, the benefit of using social stories is not only limited to a  teaching mechanism. There are many more uses, some of which include:

  • Increased knowledge and wisdom: Because words and pictures both are used in social media, there is greater scope for introducing these children to new ideas. They can be phenomenal for developing language, writing, and communication skills. It will also be simple to retain all these concepts since the children personally relate to the characters in the story. Hence, they can easily use new information to build upon their current understanding of the world.
  • Greater powers of social awareness: Repetition through rereading sharpens the memory and makes it easier to recall the core teaching of the story. Thus, whenever a moment similar to the one that is portrayed in the story confronts the child in real life, they will remember to take the right course of action that was taught in the class. As a result, this will further help them to develop their ability to comprehend familiar situations, foresee their outcomes, and modify their behavior accordingly.
  • Development of emotional intelligence: Stories are made up of several different characters, each with unique motivations. When children are introduced to the reason behind these motivations, they learn to understand and empathize with them. This boosts their emotional intelligence which is crucial for building positive interpersonal relationships.

The Different Elements Involved in Creating a Social Story

As we have stated before, social stories must be relatable to its audience. This means the child should be able to imagine himself in the shoes of the characters to increase engagement and boost learning. You could do this by involving your students in the process of creating the story or even use their names and pictures. Make sure to write from a child’s point of view.

Besides these, here are four elements of a social story put forth by Jennifer Briody and Kathleen McGarry from “Using Social Stories to Ease Children’s Transitions,” that your story will definitely need to be the efficient teaching tool that you envisioned:

  • Descriptive: Always remember to answer the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the story. Providing details will provide clarity to the story and make it coherent for its spectators. For e.g. David thinks that Susan has been hoarding all the crayons for herself when they are in the art class.
  • Perspective: The lines in the story must highlight the thoughts and emotions of the various characters. For e.g. David feels angry at Susan because he too wants to use the crayons during class. 
  • Directive: Make sure to present different characters in the story to choose from regarding his behavior and put emphasis on the best option for the children to model this behavior. For e.g. David thinks that it is a good idea to ask Susan to share the crayons with him rather than attempting to forcibly take them from her.
  • Affirmative: The most important part of the story is the moral which you will have to stress at the end. This is the core principle you want your audience to grasp and practice in the future. For e.g. If you want something, ask the other person politely or wait until they are finished.

Additionally, if you would like to learn how to masterfully craft autism social stories, autism parenting magazine is a great resource. It provides you with many wonderfully creative tips on how to write social stories that will enthrall your onlookers.

Introducing the Story to Your Audience

When you are narrating your story to the crowd, do so at a steady pace and prod them with penetrating questions that will make them think about the story being discussed. For e.g. “Do you think she could have handled the situation better?” Or “What would you do if you were in her position?”

Remember that it is not easy to change behaviors in one go. Keep re-reading the story and push forth its core teachings repeatedly. In addition to this, you can leave a copy of the story where it is accessible to the other children so they can use this resource if they are in a similar situation. 

Final Thoughts 

Imagine not knowing how to navigate a new home appliance you just bought. Normally, you would go back and refer to the instruction manual for the machine to get a sense of how to use it. Similarly, a social story serves as an instruction manual so special needs children can get a sense of how to navigate a certain social situation and act in an appropriate manner. Hopefully, this article has given you some pointers on how you can create your own story. Good luck!