Using stories to teach social skills is a way to help children with autism understand difficult social information. By presenting this social information in a way that is easy for children to understand, it is hoped that they will better comprehend both the situation and expectations. While the goal is not to change behavior, improved understanding can certainly result in positive behavior changes. For more information on how to write stories that teach social skills and for examples of these stories, please visit The Gray Center.
Initially introduced to help children, stories that teach social skills are now used with adolescents, and adults, as well. They have been used with typically developing individuals and individuals with many different diagnoses. These stories have been used in the original written format as well as words with symbols. Stories designed to teach social skills have even been programmed onto communication devices.
Why put these stories on a communication device? For a lot of reasons, including:
- Consistency of symbols
- Ease of programming and making changes
- Self-talk (talking through the story independently or to remind oneself about story components)
- Independent monitoring (the ability to use the story to remind oneself about expectations without someone else mediating the activity)
- Only one thing to carry
- Take advantage of preference for electronic screen media
Do stories that teach social skills really work on a communication device? Here is one example of how this strategy definitely helped an individual to understand the situation and his expectations.
D. was living for the summer at a residential school. His parents came to visit approximately every other weekend and often took D. camping when they came. D. loved to see his parents and was excited every time they came. When they didn't come, he was very upset and expressed himself using self-injurious and destructive behaviors. Because D. didn't have a good sense of time, he generally didn't know if his parents were coming for the weekend or not. After a few weeks of being at the residential facility, D. began communicating using his challenging behaviors in the middle of the week—whether his parents were coming that weekend or not. His team began searching for a way to reduce these challenging behaviors.
Because D. had a communication device that he used well (i.e., he understood many symbols, used the device to participate in the classroom, and was learning to create his own messages using single words), his team decided to program a few visual supports into his communication device. First, they created a calendar that showed when his parents were or were not coming. They used both color cues and symbols to indicate the different days.
Next, the team created stories that would teach social skills to tell D. what to expect when his parents were coming and were not coming. When D. selected either a green Friday (parents coming) or a red Friday (not coming), he was taken to a page with the appropriate story.
During school hours, D. was encouraged to check his calendar and listen to that week's story. While in the residential setting, Danny was given access to his device and, on Wednesday and following days, encouraged to listen to the appropriate story. Over time, he checked the calendar and listened to the stories independently.
The results were exactly what his team hoped: challenging behaviors decreased from Wednesday-Friday each week (when they had previously escalated). D. also participated more and showed fewer challenging behaviors on weekends when his parents did not visit! Because of the social stories, D. knew what to expect of the situation and what was expected of him. By repeatedly telling himself the stories, he was able to make changes in his behavior.
Stories that teach social skills can be just as powerful when presented on a communication device as they are when they appear on paper!