Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Right Or Wrong

As mentioned in the past couple columns we’ve had some issues with Konner in school. One suggestion that was made by his occupational therapist was to use social stories to help cope with the struggles he’s having. We’ve used these in the past and they seem to help in some high-stress situations. I’m going to share some of these with you and try to give an explaination of social stories.

Lynn Bain, an occupational therapist with the Gregory Kistler Center in Fort Smith, explained to my wife that children on the Autism spectrum may understand bad choices, but not comprehend what a good choice is. It’s kind of like the balance of yin and yang. If we know wrong from right but have never been taught the good things to do, only told not to do the bad, then we will never have the balance in our lives to truly be good people.

For example, I can tell a person not to wipe his nose on his sleeve. He can go around with a runny nose, or he can do what he’s used to and wipe his nose on his sleeve. Or, I can tell him to use a tissue (kind of a gross analogy, but it works).

This is where social stories come in. According to (teaching children with autism), “Social Stories are a tool for teaching social skills to children with autism and related disabilities. Social stories provide an individual with accurate information about those situations that he may find difficult or confusing.” This site includes many good social stories prewritten to help you and your child.  

Some of you may remember past columns where we used social stories. Konner’s kindergarten graduation was helped because we sat him down and explained what the gym was going to be like, what he needed to do, what he shouldn’t do, and where he would go if he got upset. We also used a social story when Konner visited the dentist. Jennifer basically walked Konner through every step of the process and told him what to expect. Both experiences turned out well thanks to him being prepared.

This week we started researching social stories and really trying to use them at home to prepare him for school. He has had issues with hitting and kicking recently and we are trying everything we know to curb this behavior.

We found many websites that have great advice on social stories. In fact there are way too many to list here, but if you run a search of “autism social stories” you can find hundreds of helpful pages.

We found a story that tells about why you shouldn’t hit people and what you should do if you are frustrated. This, like most social stories, is short.

“I like the children in my class and I have many friends in school.

If I am angry or mad I do not hit or kick my classmates, my friends, or my teachers. This is a mean thing to do.

If I need to say something but I can not find the words to say it, I do not hit or kick someone.

If I hit or kick my classmates or my teacher, I will be hurting their feelings. They will feel sad.

If I hurt my friend’s feelings they will not want to be my friend anymore.

I like having lots of friends, so I will remember not to hit or kick. I will use my words if I am angry.”

Again, the ideas to help them understand the right things to do, and what the wrong things are. Too much information is unnecessary and can be more confusing.

So how do you use them. has a list to help parents.

o   Identify a specific skill or difficult situation to serve as the focus of the story. Examples of these could include riding the bus, sharing, eating lunch, writing the student's name, being a good friend, cleaning up or any other challenging situation the student will benefit from learning about.

o   Write a list of key concepts that are associated with the chosen skill or situation. For example, if the main topic is walking in the hallways, then the key concepts could include staying on the right side, being quiet, walking not running and not touching artwork on the walls.

o   Put these key concepts into words at a level at which the student can understand. Use appropriate vocabulary that the student likely would use.

o   Outline a structure for the story that includes a logical sequence.

o   Ask the student to help write the story if he is capable. If the student cannot write the story with assistance, involve him in illustrating or drawing symbols to represent the main idea.

o   Write the story from the first-person point of view. The voice of the story should be a child the same age as the student.

o   Share the story with several colleagues or members of the school community who are directly involved with that student. Ask them to edit and give feedback.

o   Review their feedback and make any changes you think enhance the story.

o   Have the student give final copies to those colleagues and his parents. Ask them to refer back to the story when the skill or situation presents itself.

o   Read the story with or to the student regularly, and as needed. Monitor whether the story or parts of the story are effective or ineffective. Again, make changes as needed. The goal is to make the story relevant to the student so he can relate and react positively in the same situation.   

There are social stories for just about every issue you can be having with your autistic child. There are categories including stories for school, home, hygiene, figures of speech, etc. Those categories break down into many different stories including (hygiene) going to the bathroom, brushing teeth, clean hands, getting dressed, etc.

It’s still too early to tell whether our social story about hitting is working yet or not, but from past experiences they do work. If you are having issues in any area with you autistic child you can find a story to go along with it.

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