Social Stories Are An Excellent Tool To Help Change Undesirable Behaviors
Social stories are a highly effective tool for helping students learn replacement behaviors for undesirable actions. There are many resources available with social stories written for just about any scenario (one of my favorites was titled “Throwing Shoes in Toilet”). I always found, however, that the ones I wrote myself were the most effective, as it allowed me to write in such a way as to be most meaningful to the individual student.
When you create your own social stories it is important to target a very specific behavior. For example, I remember I once had a little boy with high functioning autism who engaged in several undesirable behaviors that we were able to extinguish through the use of social stories. I knew the lessons made an impact when I heard him whisper “When I spit in the teacher’s purse, the teacher gets upset. It’s not nice to spit in a teacher’s purse.” I don’t think you’ll find a ready made social story for that one!
So what exactly is a social story? Basically, it is a short story that helps change behavior by giving an individual clear and specific (concrete) information about the undesirable behavior, it’s impact, and how to change that behavior (with a replacement behavior) for a positive outcome. A social story clarifies five points including:
1) The situation or context
2) The undesirable behavior
3) The result of the undesirable
4) The expected behavior
5) The positive reinforcement
The social story should be written in the first person, in the present tense, provide concise details and give the student the information he needs to act appropriately. The sentences used in the story should be descriptive, provide perspective and be directive. It is helpful to include pictures with the social story to help reinforce the concept.
Before deciding to use a social story to target a problem behavior, it is important to determine what is precipitating that behavior. If the cause is an external issue, such as discomfort or fear, then addressing that issue will generally resolve the problem. For example if you have a student who always pushes the student in front of him when waiting in line, you may discover that it’s because he is being pushed by the student behind him. Obviously, the order in which the students line up should solve the problem. If, however, the student acts out because he enjoys the attention of shoving, then a social story could help extinguish this behavior.
So let’s write a social story for pushing when waiting in line. (I like to use the Pixwriter software for social stories as it brings the text to life and helps non-readers with comprehension. http://www.suncastletech.com/pixwriter.html
The highlighting of the text below corresponds to the highlighting of the five points above.
When I am at school I line up to go places.
I line up to go to the gym and to the library.
I line up to go to lunch and to music.
Sometimes when I line up I push the friend in front of me.
Pushing the friend in front of me makes my friend angry.
My friend can get hurt or fall down when I push him.
Friends do not like it when they are pushed.
It is not nice to push friends when I am in line.
When waiting in line, I will keep my hands at my side.
Friends will not get hurt when I keep my hands at my side.
Friends will be happy when I keep my hands at my side.
It is nice to keep my friends happy and safe.
How do you go about implementing a new social story? It’s important to introduce the story in a quiet place, without distractions. You can start out by tell the student your observation. “Sometimes when you get in line you push your friends. I have a story about that. Let me read it to you.”
Before the student is in the targeted situation (in this case lining up), take him aside and re-read the story. Have him line up and ask him to demonstrate how he will keep his hands at his sides. Reinforce the behavior with verbal praise reiterating the desired behavior and result. Take a picture! You can insert it into the social story, thereby increasing it’s effectiveness by making it personal to him.
Here’s a picture from a social story showing a student practicing raising his hand. You’ll notice that he has a batman figure on the seat next to him. This was a reinforcing toy for the student, who loved seeing his hero demonstrating the target behavior!
Good luck writing your social stories to target problem behaviors! Remember, be specific, directive, and concise!
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