Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Using Social Stories

I love the idea of social stories.  Before I returned to school, I worked as a classroom aide at a program for kids with emotional and behavioral disturbances.  The last couple of years I worked there, we had a couple of students with Asperger's.  Both of them were pretty high-functioning and were very coachable when it came to social skills.  However, they were both very thrown off by any break from the regular routine.  Any time we knew the day was going to be out of the ordinary, some of the staff worked together to make social stories.  For example, one year the whole program went bowling at the end of the year.  One of the social workers went to the bowling alley and took pictures of the front of the alley, the ball racks, the lanes, the shoe counter etc.  I then put them together in a book that walked the kids through the day and gave each boy a copy.  "I will come to school.  I was eat breakfast with my class like always.  Around 9:30, I will get on a bus.  We will ride to the bowling alley.  I will go to the counter and get a pair of bowling shoes." etc.  I think they were very effective and the boys loved them.  We made hard copies of them which I really liked because they could carry them around.  We even took them to the bowling alley with us, and if one of them started to look a little overwhelmed, someone sat down with him and went through the story with him.  In addition to just offering a distraction, it reassured him that he did know what was going to happen next and that it was going to be okay.

I think Cori More perfectly summed up what I like the most about social stories. "Because the stories are individualized, they can be tailored to meet the needs of each learner."  In what little experience I have with autism, I know that you can have five students with autism and every single one of them will be different.  Some of them will need more guidance in peer interaction, some of them will need more reminders about routines, some of them will need more guidance in classroom behavior.  A social story can easily be made to address any issue in any of those categories.  Each child will probably also have specific needs and that's adjustable too.  Digital stories can be created for students who have difficulties manipulating the pages of a book or who need audio.  Text can be included for students who have difficulties focusing on spoken words.  Text and audio can go hand-in-hand for students who do better with the double reinforcement.

I also really liked the discussion at Healing Thresholds about why social stories seem to work with kids who have autism.  At first, it does seems kind of strange that kids might learn better through them than through a real person instructing them, but it does make sense that kids who are frustrated by social interactions might be so distracted by their relationship with the person teaching them that they lose what's being said.  Removing that interaction frees them up to focus on the information at hand.

I'd never used Photo Story before and I was really surprised at how quick and easy it was.  I spent more time finding photos that worked than I did actually putting the story together.  In the real-life scenario I mentioned above, when I had photos of my own, it would have been a very easy process.  I decided to focus on something I saw students struggle with - playing games with peers.  A number of things seemed to cause problems - agreeing on a game, taking turns, not making negative comments to peers ("Boy, that was a stupid move!") - so I made sure to include them.  I had students who weren't on the autism spectrum who had similar difficulties with peer interaction so while everything we read stressed how great social stories are for those on the spectrum, I think it's important to realize that they're adaptable to all kinds of students with all kinds of needs.

Here's my story!