5 Unique Ways OTs Support Social Stories™
by Molly Shannon, OTR/L, ATP,
on the ATandOT Blog
Social Stories™ is a tool that has been used with persons with special needs to reinforce positive behavior and social skills through the use of short stories. It was developed by Carol Gray in the early 90’s for students with autism spectrum disorder and its success with students is not a new topic. Ms. Gray trademarked the term Social Stories™ and has recently published a new book entitled “The New Social Story™ Book “ now available from Amazon. On Gray’s website, she also provides an excellent chart listing the 10 criteria for writing a Social Story™: Carol Gray 10 story criteria.
“The New Social Story™ Book” by Carol Gray
While Ms. Gray developed this much-needed concept, many other professionals have modified the approach to meet the specific needs of their students or clients including those with special needs other than autism. The expectation is that the teacher would be the primary source for the development of the Social Story™ with input from the team including the occupational therapist, the speech pathologist, the parents, and other members of the student’s educational team. Occupational therapists (OTs) have found that teachers and families are calling on them more and more to assist in the development of the stories by providing resources and suggestions regarding implementation.
The goal of this post is not how to write a Social Story™ itself as there are many great resources available from Carol Gray and others to guide you in that process. Yet, as OTs, our ability to analyze activities and focus on participation in functional tasks allows us to offer fresh perspectives to the team as they are developing Social Stories™. In addition, we can assist in adapting or individualizing the Social Stories™ while simultaneously contributing to the student’s therapy goals in fine motor, writing, or self-regulation skills. These ideas may be useful not only to OTs working with students with special needs but to other interested team members.
5 Unique Ways OTs Support Social Stories
- Use Fine Motor Skills to Individualize and Adapt the Social Stories™: The ideas for fine motor tasks listed below may lead to increased ownership of the Social Story™ by the student and can help with their memory of the details of the story. Remember that the Social Story™ itself doesn’t have to be a professional-level production initially as it is important just to get the story ready for use in a timely manner.
- Get the student’s help with the individualization of the story to ensure “buy-in” or ownership of the story by the student.
- The simplest way to write a Social Story™ is for the student and the adult to develop a quick story together once the targeted behavior has been identified that needs support. The adult will be incorporating the pertinent Social Story™ criteria from Carol Gray’s resources to guide the development of the story with the student.
- The student may be dictating the story to the adult and the adult is writing the story using paper and pencil only. The story could then be placed in a folder or page protectors.
- To reinforce the concepts, the student could trace, copy, or write letters, words, or sentences in the Social Story ™ depending upon his or her ability level. We often remember best those things that we write by hand.
- The student could also color and cut and paste pictures to illustrate or sequence the story. Social Stories™ can be illustrated, but some are not depending upon the needs of the student.
- Sensory Reinforcements: Do it, hear it, feel it, see it! As OTs and teachers, we want to provide a stimulating and multi-sensory learning approach for our students with special needs as they all have different learning styles and strengths.
- Why not add some tactile input by using motivating stickers, puffy paint outlines, glitter, and decorative tape in the story?
- Perhaps add some calming fragrance to the story such as aromatherapy lavender oil to the pages or smelly stickers for illustrations.
- Increase the kinesthetic input by having the student trace keyword(s) with his or her finger, such as the phrase “quiet hands,” or by physically acting out portions of the story.
- Try having the student cut pictures out of a magazine to illustrate the concepts of the story.
- Allow the student to “read” the story at his or her level to himself, to peers, and to adults. Perhaps he could read his story in a quiet area of the classroom to minimize distractions or noise if necessary?
- Have the student come up with the 3 top rules or ideas from the story. Students enjoy doing this and this helps them to remember and internalize their story.
- Use real pictures of the student or his environment if you have the available resources (camera, printer, ink). How about letting the student take a few photos himself?
- Self-Regulation Supports: As OTs we often deal with sensory processing needs that can lead to improved self-regulation and focus. Self-regulation is the ability to control one’s behavior, emotions, and thoughts. Social Stories™ is another powerful tool in our OT toolkit that we might include in a sensory diet in the school setting to support a students’ needs in sensory processing and successful self-regulation in their special education program. Remember that learning to regulate oneself is an important skill for all of our students in either general or special education classes. As a result, teachers can practice the Social Story™ with the entire class initially and then review it with the student with special needs to reinforce the positive behavior that has been targeted.
- Use Resources Wisely: You can be a valuable resource for providing free online Social Stories™ to your team as they often look to the OT for a variety of resources. Don’t forget that social media sites such as Pinterest (a wealth of boards), Teachers Pay Teachers, and Facebook groups may be great sources of free and inexpensive Social Stories™. Check out the following resources:
- Extensive listing of free Social Stories™ and info from PBIS World
- Free Social Stories™ using Picture It: Free Picture It links
- Amazing four-part article from OT for Children about Social Stories™ (make sure you read all four sections): OT for Children blog
- Free Social Stories™ from Supporting Autism
- Another classic resource is an excellent article from OT AdvanceWeb written by Judith Schoonover, OT, “Cool Tool for School”.
- Teachers Pay Teachers: I found almost 14,000 choices with a recent search for “Social Stories” and many are free or low cost, including these from Christine Reeve; Janice McClesky, OTR; Speechy Musings by Shannon Lisowe; Educating Everyone 4 Life; Teaching Differently; Autism Helper; Autism Adventures; and Adventures in Autism.
- Use a Wide Variety of Technology Supports for Social Stories™: The use of technology in the development of the social story and with the practice or review of the story is another motivating way in which to personalize it. As OTs, we are often called upon to consult and train others in the public schools regarding the use of educational and assistive technologies to support our students in the development of their individualized educational goals. As a result, it is important to remember that students with autism spectrum disorder often have a great affinity and skill in using technology, especially when provided with a structured approach with an adult’s guidance. Also, don’t forget the use of the Cloud or Google Docs to store stories so the family can access the Social Stories™ from home as well.
I’ve shared below the various types of technology support available for Social Stories™ that I’ve found helpful.
Word processing: There are a variety of standard word processing software programs, apps, or Google Chrome extensions that allow the student or the adult to type the story. Here are a few “talking” word processors for IOS devices:
- My favorite IOS app for the students to use with early typing skills is called Word Wizard which is a talking word processor and is available for $4.99.
- Speak It, an IOS app, is another talking word processor available for $1.99.
Generic Story Builder Apps with Video clips: Many of the generic story building apps available now have the ability to incorporate videos in the student’s stories.
Specific Apps for Creation of Social Stories™: Most of these apps have the capability to read the story out loud to the student and some also have video capabilities.
- StoryMaker app for Social Stories™ for IOS is available for $39.99 and includes exclusive content from Carol Gray.
- Social Stories™ Creator for IOS offers a free sampler but costs for the product vary as you can buy one story or buy a bundle ($24.99).
- Here is a great listing of apps from Friendship Circle for Social Stories™: Friendship Circle apps.
Text-to-speech options: Consider the use of text-to-speech options including software programs, Google extensions, or various IOS apps as these types of supports could speak or read the story created with the student for great auditory feedback. Encourage listening to their stories with text-to-speech technology or record a short video of the student or adult reading the book and place this video on their tablet or within an app for reinforcement of the positive behavior in the social story.
Voice recognition option: Consider the use of the free ISO app for voice recognition called Dragon Dictate. This allows the students to explore the ability to “write” portions of their stories using their speech.
These unique ideas for ways in which OTs can help support students in their use of Social Stories™ emphasize increased student ownership of the story, provide multi-sensory and self-regulation supports, assist in locating online resources, and explore possible technology supports for the creation of Social Stories™.
Molly Shannon, OTR/L, AT , is an occupational Therapist with 33 years’ experience and currently working in the public schools as a school-based Occupational Therapist in NC. She has specialized in the provision of Assistive Technology for 29 of those years and is RESNA certified as an Assistive Technology Professional. In addition, Molly is an Adjunct Professor of Occupational Therapy at Cabarrus College of Health Sciences in the Master’s Program teaching Therapeutic Adaptations/Assistive Technology in OT. She loves to present and train others in Assistive Technology and has been a national-level conference presenter since 1989. She has worked with clients of all ages and with a wide range of disabilities in public/private school settings, non-profit educational/therapeutic agencies, outpatient/inpatient rehabilitation, and with the North Carolina Assistive Technology Program. You can connect with Molly on Twitter site, Pinterest Boards, or her ATandOT Facebook page.
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