Ever get nervous before a big event? Maybe you’re going to be around people you’ve never met or experience something new for the first time? We can all relate to that building anxiousness of the unknown. This feeling can be intensified for children with disabilities or sensory sensitivities. Fortunately, there are some tools you can use to help prep your little one for a wonderful new experience. That’s where social stories come in.
A Social Story is a visual preview, typically including a picture and caption of what to expect prior to a new experience. “A social story is an aid to help children with social or sensory needs that prepares them for what to expect as well as what to do or how they might feel in an event or unfamiliar situation,” explained Abby Cureton, Speech Language Pathologist at Summit DD. “But you can really make one for anything!”
Social stories have a wide variety of applications from understanding others’ actions and emotions, developing self-care skills, (i.e. cleaning teeth and washing hands) and general safety techniques (i.e. crossing the street) to specific events or changes in routine. Check out this online library of social stories to see the variety of uses.
Visual cues make the information more digestible for kids who aren’t able to conceptualize an image when someone verbally explains what to do or what to expect. “Having that visual as preparation can really help kids who are still developing their symbolic thought,” added Abby. “It’s beneficial to kids who are working on their ability to translate what’s being expressed into a picture in their minds and to help them understand what’s expected in new situations.”
The key is taking a concept and presenting it in a concrete, visual way. For example, below is Summit DD’s Social Story of a “Day at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.” It breaks down different exhibits and sensory experiences a child may have while visiting the zoo.
While some social stories like this one cover broader topics or events, social stories are often tailored individually to a child. Our specialists work with families to explore specific needs and then create tailored resources that will help the child most. Abby noted, “You might have one child who gets really anxious around new people waiting in line for tickets. On the other hand, another child might get super excited and want to hug everyone in line.” Every child’s experience is unique. “Social stories are so effective when they are tailored to meet the need of one, specific child,” she concluded.
The most exciting part of social stories is that it encourages kids to step into the unknown and explore new possibilities. “I think it gives kids an opportunity to be included,” added Abby about the inclusive benefits of social stories. “It gives kids an opportunity to try new things!”
Check out our Social Stories