Autism & Social Stories: Q&A With Dr. Mary, School Psychologist

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The school years are more complex than ever. If it's not the curriculum, it's the relationships. Dr. Mary Rosen is here to provide answers to your most pressing school issues. She's a school psychologist, licensed counselor, graduate school instructor, and parent.

Today, Dr. Mary is addressing the topic of using social stories to help children with autism.

Q: My 8-year-old daughter has autism and has difficulties greeting other people. Her teacher told me that she started reading my daughter a social story to help her with this skill. What the heck is a social story?


A: It sounds like your daughter's teacher is using a popular method that many teachers, psychologists, social workers, speech therapists, parents, and others have found to be helpful in teaching social skills to people with autism. They're short, concrete depictions of social events that outline what behavior is expected in that particular situation and why. They're meant to help children better understand social stuff by showing some very specific, correct ways of responding to many kinds of normal situations.

These stories are often used because children with autism have various social challenges where they might, for example, misunderstand social cues. That is, they often can't "read" a person's facial expression or body language, can't gauge what others will do or say, and have trouble knowing what people expect in social situations.

As an example, the following could be a social story for a child who has difficulty greeting others:

There are many ways to greet someone.

When I see someone I know, usually I'll try to smile and say, "Hello." They may say, "Hello" back. And they may stop to talk with me.

Sometimes, when I'm visiting a family member like my cousin Sue, I'll try to give them a small hug.

Sometimes, if I'm just passing someone I know, I can smile, wave, or just nod my head. Most people like it when I smile at them. Smiling can make people feel good.

Each story focuses on a specific situation, and situations can be just about anything from asking someone to play to going to the zoo. Each story is written in the present-tense, from the perspective of the child, and describes aspects of the situation (where, who, what, why), the emotions/thoughts of others in the situation, and how the child should behave in the situation. Pictures or drawings are often included. Since each child is unique, stories are varied or customized to reflect a particular child's social issue.

Sometimes, it's the simplest solutions that can be the most effective.

Got a question about school learning or behaviors for Dr. Mary? Leave it in the comments below or email us, and Dr. Mary may answer your question in a future post.

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