Navigating the autism community and differentiating between what may be “the buzz” and what is an evidenced-based strategy is often difficult for teachers and parents alike. Further compounding this navigation is that the media often covers only fads, or “quick fixes,” rather than those strategies that have been consistently and successfully adopted by teachers.
One strategy that has remained steadfast through the years—and despite various critics—is Social Stories™. Discovered by Carol Gray in 1990, Social Stories are brief stories, accompanied by pictures when needed, to help students understand specific social situations. Social Stories are “a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format.”
Typically, a Social Story is constructed with the participation of the student—within Catapult Learning schools, this would also include participation from the student’s teacher or social worker. The story addresses a social situation in which the student may need a better understanding, progressing through the steps of the identified social situation and targeting the development of an alternative and appropriate social response. The Social Story is personalized for the student and is developed to their cognitive level. Carol Gray developed clear guidelines for developing a story. Stories should include a target behavior identified, a provided replacement behavior, be written from the child’s perspective (as if you are the child) with pictures, and lastly, include a ratio of one directive sentence for every two-to-five sentences that are descriptive, perspective, or both.
- Directive sentences: provides responses or behaviors that the student is expected to perform
- Descriptive sentences: includes specifics of events, actions, and thoughts of people in a similar situation
- Perspective sentences: usually connected to the outcome of a situation and provides insight into how other feel and/ or react about the action or inaction of the main character
A Social Story is used to explicitly teach the student what to expect within situations that were previously deemed difficult and how to appropriately respond to the difficulty when faced with it again. It is also important to keep in mind that the goal of Social Stories is exposure; these stories are oftentimes used immediately before the situation arises so that the scenario is fresh and familiar to the student, providing an opportunity to rehearse an appropriate response. For instance, if a student has difficulty transitioning into a new school, a Social Story could be developed to help him to forecast and understand what to expect, such as who will greet him, what the check-in procedure would look like, who his teacher and classmates will be, etc.
Lastly, the greatest advantage of Social Stories is that they can be used to intervene in the behavior and event at all stages—in the middle of an event or even after an event has occurred–depending on the needs of the student. As Carol Gray noted:
“First: Abandon all assumptions. Second: Recognize that the social impairment in autism is shared, with mistakes made on all sides of the social equation. Third: When typical people interact with people with autism, both perspectives are equally valid and deserving of respect. To this day, these three principles define the Social Story philosophy and guide the development of each Story.”