Social Stories

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014


I CAME to know about Social Stories in one of the autism conferences I attended. Social Stories™ were first developed by Ms. Carol Gray, the Director of The Gray Center for Social Learning and Understanding in Grandville, Michigan. In Gray’s definition, “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”. In layman’s term, it is like a very simple comic strip that gives information, through texts and illustrations, of the who, what, when, where, and why of a situation.

Based on Carol Gray's social story guidelines, published in The new social story book (1994), there are said to be 7 types of sentences used in constructing a Social Story: 1) Descriptive sentence- answers the 'wh' questions where does the situation occur, who is it with, what happens and why? Descriptive sentences need to present information from an accurate and objective viewpoint. 2) Perspective- refers to the opinions, feelings, ideas, beliefs or physical/mental well-being of others; 3) Directive sentence-gently offers a response or range of responses for behavior in a particular situation. It is important that these sentences have a positive focus and are constructed in ways which allow flexibility (i.e. avoid statements like I must or I have to); 4) Affirmative- statements that enhance the meaning of the previous sentence (which may be a descriptive, perspective or directive sentence) and can be used to emphasize the importance of the message or to provide reassurance to the person; 5) Co-operative- sentences that identify "who" can assist the individual in a situation. 6) Control - statements written by the person with autism to provide personal meaning to a particular situation and to assist them to recall and apply information; and 7) Partial- incomplete sentences, which allow the person to guess the next step in a situation, and may be used with descriptive, perspective, directive, affirmative, co-operative and control sentences.

An example of Gray’s Social Story reads like this:

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Title: What are unexpected noises?

There are many noises (descriptive).
Sometimes noises surprise me (descriptive). They are unexpected (descriptive).

Some unexpected noises are; telephones, doorbells, barking dogs, breaking glass, vacuum cleaners, slamming doors, honking horns, and thunder (descriptive).

These sounds are okay (affirmative). I will try to stay calm when I hear unexpected noises (directive).

Adults can tell me when the noise will stop (co-operative).

I assume that the sample social story above was written for a child with ASD who is sensitive to noises and may exhibit disruptive behavior or throws a tantrum when placed in a noisy environment. Originally, Ms. Gray’s Social Stories are all in texts, but eventually, illustrations or pictures were used to complement sentences. Some can be drawn by artists, but there are many websites now that offer pictures and illustrations that can be downloaded for your social stories.

Social Stories can be used as a tool to help children with autism understand social situations that are hard to explain verbally. For example, persons with ASD have social impairments and have difficulty understanding emotions that they are going through or in interpreting how other people may feel. Social Stories are used in teaching a particular social skill (for example when to say “sorry” or “thank you”. Although there is no scientific evidence on the effectiveness of Social Stories as a strategy to change an individual’s behavior, it somehow helps some individuals achieve a better understanding of events and expectations that lead to an improved behavior.

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Jane Ann S. Gonzales is a mother of a youth with autism. She is an advocate/core member of the Autism Society Philippines and Directress of the Independent Living Learning Centre (ILLC) Davao, a centre for teenagers and adults with special needs. For comments or questions, please email janeanngonzales@yahoo.com).

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on August 14, 2014.

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