The concept of teaching children by reading, and telling stories, or giving illustrations has been used by parents and teachers for centuries.
Stories offer children a subjective viewpoint of situations and people around them. And stories offer solutions to the mystery how these circumstances and interactions can be handled.
The term “social stories” that is used today originated with Carol Gray in the early 1990s.
Gray’s Social Stories follow a specific format and are designed especially for children on the autism spectrum to teach social cues and related behaviors and emotions that children with autism are unable to define and deal with appropriately.
Illustrations or stories in general, however, are effective tools in teaching children whether on the spectrum or not.
The Voice of Experience
I have one son on the autism spectrum (formerly Aspergers syndrome) and one that is not on the spectrum but who has sensory processing issues.
As an aside, some may not be aware that in the release of the DSM 5 in May 2013, there is no Aspergers syndrome anymore. It falls under the autism spectrum umbrella instead of Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) that it was under previously.
The Early Childhood Educator in my younger son’s senior kindergarten class used Gray’s version of Social Stories with him and other children in the class. She used the stories to define the behavior she expected them to exhibit during certain school activities, like a field trip that required a ride on a school bus.
When my older son wwas that age, social stories in that form weren’t as widely used yet. But at home, with both sons, I used simple story books and TV programs -- the kind that play on PBS and other educational programming.
These stories, particularly for my older son, provided the picture of what I was trying to teach. This saved his mind from trying the conjure the picture on his own.
That was very beneficial because of his very slow processing speed. Creating the picture himself took him a long time -- long enough that he might miss the impact of the point.
The advantage of a TV program is that the picture is already created. All I have to say is “Remember, so-and-so on this show? Remember that episode when ... ?” or “Remember, what happened when… ?”
A Repertoire of Story Ammunition
The advantage to using TV shows and story books is that they put the lesson you’re trying to teach into a context that your child already knows and understands.
The trick, of course, is having appropriate examples of shows and stories as part of your teaching repertoire.
A good example is the program The Adventures of Napkin Man that is becoming popular in Canada. In this program, a simple story can illustrate to a child how to more effectively deal with his or her emotions.
With both my sons, PBS-type shows such as Arthur, Thomas the Tank Engine, George Shrinks, and the Magic School Bus have also been helpful. There are plenty of other similar shows that can demonstrate for your child the kind of behavior you expect.
Many children’s book publishers also have a good array of books that can help a child deal with the emotions of going to the dentist, going to school, getting a pet, and potty training, along with other issues.
These stories may reach your child even if he or she has tuned you out.
1) How to Write Social Stories. Hutten, Mark. My Aspergers Child. Web. Accessed: Oct 6, 2014.
2) Social Stories: An Emerging and Effective Intervention for Student with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Wilkinson, Lee A. Pediastaff.com. Web. Accessed: Oct 6, 2014.
3) Social Stories. Gray, Carol. TheGrayCenter.org. Web. Accessed: Oct 6, 2014.
Reviewed October 7, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith