We met Zach (pseudonym) and his mother when they participated in a study examining the effectiveness of Social Stories™1 for facilitating social cognition and remediating challenging behaviors. At the time, Zach was five years old, and had been recently diagnosed with ASD. He was enrolled in a general education classroom and was receiving services from a school-based speech language pathologist and special educator.
Below are the steps we used to integrate Social Stories™ into Zach’s treatment, as well as some relevant myths and misconceptions to be aware of when using Social Stories™.
Step 1: Information Gathering
To begin developing the intervention we gathered information by observing Zach, administering standardized measures to assess his social, communicative, and “theory of mind” (i.e., the Theory of Mind Inventory) skills, conducting joint interviews with Zach’s mother and teacher, and reviewing his records. Our goals were to understand Zach’s strengths and challenges, and identify a target of intervention that would:
- Be responsive to his parents’ priorities
- Be sensitive to Zach’s linguistic and social cognitive level
- Build on his strengths to support his development toward enhanced social understanding
In short, the sources of information we gathered identified “willful,” “oppositional,” and “explosive” aggressive acts that usually occurred in situations requiring adjustment and transitioning.
Step 2: Writing the Social Story
The second step in the intervention involved the writing and editing of the Social Story. Based on the information gathered, a small research team developed Zach’s Social Story. Care was taken to ensure an appropriate language level, the inclusion of meaningful words (to Zach), and the accuracy of all statements. We then asked Zach’s mother to review and edit the Social Story to ensure the language level and content were appropriate and accurate.
Step 3: Supportive and Affirmative Social Stories™
During intervention, we noticed that Zach was initially unreceptive to the reading of the Social Story™. Despite our efforts to frame the story in a positive and nonjudgmental manner, the topic aroused strong negative memories for Zach. In response, we introduced a variety of additional supports to encourage his engagement (e.g., timers, rewards). We also decided to incorporate affirmative Social Stories™ (stories that are designed merely to explain and celebrate something the child did successfully) to provide balance and maintain interest in this intervention.
Results: A Powerful Influence
In the end, Social Stories™ proved to have a powerful influence on Zach’s thinking and behavior. A few of the comments that Zach’s mother offered at the conclusion of the intervention were, “He is better at remaining calm,” and, “He comes to me now when he gets upset but instead of getting violent, he says ‘I’m angry’ and asks for help.” Zach’s mother indicated her new found enthusiasm for Social Stories™, and promptly instructed his school team to, “go wild with Social Stories!”
Myths and Misconceptions
Our experience with Zach highlights several myths and misconceptions surrounding Social Stories™.
Myth: The purpose of a Social Story™ is to change audience (i.e., an individual’s) behavior.
Fact: The purpose of a Social Story™ is to share meaningful and accurate information in a supportive, safe, and positive way. “The theory is that the improvement in behavior that is frequently credited to a Social Story is the result of improved understanding of events and expectations.”1
Myth: Social Stories™ are quick and easy to develop.
Fact: The planning, development, implementation, monitoring, and revision of Social Stories™ can be time-consuming. Ideally, it involves gathering accurate information and the participation of a team that has direct contact with the audience.
Myth: Social Stories™ focus only on challenging situations.
Fact: Gray (2010) has written with emphasis that, “50% of all Social Stories must applaud what the audience is doing well…The rationale is simple. Given that Social Stories are helpful in teaching new concepts and skills, they may also be just as powerful in adding meaning and detail to praise.”1
Putting it All Together
Social Stories™ are one of the most popular and least understood interventions to support children with ASD. The case and myths presented above are just some of the things you will explore in our course focusing on Social Stories™. With all these resources, you should be able to learn the steps to developing an effective social story, create success for your students, and spot the fouls in social stories that aren’t working!
- Gray. C. (2010). The New Social Story Book. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons.