Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Utilizing Social Stories™ in Preparing for Back to School

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

For years authors have been writing books to help children through new situations.  For example, The Berenstain Bears collection, as well as many others, has a book for every type of situation; going to the dentist, the arrival of the new baby, and practically every holiday.  If you walk up and down an isle in the Children's section of any bookstore today, you will find an array of books featuring the first day of school, whether it be preschool, kindergarten, or just another year.  But when we take a look at our children with significant social difficulties or anxiety to new situations, we realize that sometimes those "off the shelf" books do not really hit home for them, especially if they take things very literally. That is where Social Stories™ become helpful when preparing with the transition of back to school.  They can be helpful in guiding children for riding the bus, participating in recess, eating lunch in the cafeteria, sitting during circle time, etc.

Carol Gray was the first to devise the concept of social stories in the early 1990s.  Based on her work with social stories, she states, "A Social Story™ describes a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format. The goal of a Social Story™ is to share accurate social information in a patient and reassuring manner that is easily understood by its audience. Half of all Social Stories™ developed should affirm something that an individual does well. Although the goal of a Social Story™ should never be to change the individual's behavior, that individual's improved understanding of events and expectations may lead to more effective responses."   Therefore, it is important that a story not be used in a uniform situation for a group of children, rather it should be developed and used on an individual basis.  To develop a useful and accurate social story, the individual's needs, behaviors and responses need to be assessed so that it can truly depict the difficulty the child is having. (www.thegraycenter.org).

Social stories stem from a Speech/Language background, but are used within all realms of therapy and education.  However, very often many parents and professionals are fully aware that the concept exists and their success. The Gray Center website offers a lot of hints, suggestions, and instructions for developing an effective social story.  In addition, it provides some sample stories used in some common situations.

Often times we find professionals have simply just developed stories about new situations that do not focus on the social aspects, but introduces the child to them and what to expect.  These can be just as useful and effective.  In addition, it has been found that some parents/professionals have even taken one of those books "off the shelf" books of a child's favorite character and inserted the child's picture and name into the book, increasing the interest for the child. Just as we work together as a team to develop sensory diets, we also need to work as a team to effectively help our children deal with the changes of school.  Whether it be their first year, or just a new year with new schedules, teachers and friends, it is our role to help them make it through the initial hump. Most children on the Autism Spectrum, and those with sensory or anxiety issues benefit from some help in preparing for everything the new school year has to offer.

So, as we pack the book bags with all the supplies, fill the closets with the new wardrobe, let us not forget about the importance of building up their confidence and decreasing their anxiety as we start off another school year.