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Most people learn how to behave appropriately—that is, they follow rules, expectations, routines and established social norms—by watching the people around them and adjusting their behavior according to the feedback they receive from others. It is a process that happens naturally through the developmental stages. Of course we are guided by rules, consequences, and social cues, but sometimes those boundaries are not sufficient for the development of social skills. For those who cannot learn these behaviors naturally, they must be taught. Similar to providing targeted instruction in math or ELA, some students require direct instruction in how to behave.

Using Social Stories in the Classroom

Disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Conduct Disorder, Mood Disorders, and learning disabilities can impede a child’s ability to accurately perceive situations, empathize with others, and regulate behavior. These deficits make it difficult for children to learn appropriate behavior. Students who face these challenges benefit from direct instruction in social skills. Social stories are just one of many components of a social skills curriculum for helping these students prepare for specific situations and to reinforce positive behavior.

Social stories were initially designed to support children with ASD on a one-to-one basis. However, practitioners have realized the benefit of the use of these stories with children who have social struggles due to a variety of reasons, both individually and in whole group instruction.

Social Stories for Transitions

The use of social stories in whole group instruction is effective when the entire group has a similar skill deficit. For example, if the entire group has a difficult time regulating behavior on field trips, a social story about what to expect and how to behave will benefit the entire group.

Mr. Yetz created a social story on Storyboard That to support his class in developing appropriate behavior during transitions to specials. Reading the story as a class has become part of the morning routine. After they read the story, he practices the behavior with them. Practice allows the students the opportunity to experience what they read and gives Mr. Yetz the opportunity to provide feedback. When the students show progress, Mr. Yetz will decrease his involvement in the process. First, he will have his students read the story independently before they practice as a group. Eventually, as the class is able to consistently transition without incident, Mr. Yetz will wean the class off of the story entirely. He will maintain consistency by continuing to follow the procedure outlined in the story and by providing feedback each time they transition.

Mr. Yetz created his social story by first identifying the task he wanted them to complete. Although his group of students experiences behavioral challenges throughout the day, he found that transitions were problematic for all of his students at one time or another. Next, he identified target behaviors - the behavior he wanted to eliminate - and identified what he wanted his students to do instead. Mr. Yetz’s school uses the phrase “safe body”, meaning one who is not running away from staff, one who is not hurting him/herself, and one who is not hurting others. A “calm body” is one who is not agitated and is steady in his/her seat or space in the room. “Quiet voice” means no talking. The students are very familiar with these three phrases as they are part of the daily expectations. Mr. Yetz decides to stick with what the kids already know in order to reinforce previous expectations and maintain continuity throughout the school. Next, he outlined the steps the students needed to complete. For each step, he wrote a sentence or two that describes what to expect and the action they should take. Since many students who have difficulty learning social and behavioral expectations also have difficulty empathizing or seeing the consequence of their behavior, he included the effect their behavior could have on others. Finally, Mr. Yetz created an image using Storyboard That to accompany each step. The image illustrates what the students are expected to do.

Social Stories for Social Development

Mr. Yetz uses social stories to support the social development of individual students as well. His student Stefanie has a difficult time managing her anger and frustration during unstructured times - typically during transitions - walking in the hallway, and getting on and off the bus. She also has a difficult time during lunch, recess, and choice time in the classroom.

Mr. Yetz has worked with Stefanie on developing coping skills. She has had the most success walking away from situations and taking five deep breaths when she is angry or frustrated. Mr. Yetz created a social story that reinforces the use of these strategies. He reads the story with her each morning during independent reading, and then they review her coping strategies. When Stefanie is able to employ these strategies more consistently, Mr. Yetz will gradually decrease his role in the process to increase Stefanie’s self-efficacy. He will have her read the story independently and then meet with her to practice her coping skills. Eventually, Mr. Yetz will allow her to complete the entire exercise independently. When Stefanie demonstrates the ability to follow the steps outlined in her social story, Mr. Yetz will wean her off the story altogether.

When developing Stefanie’s social story, Mr. Yetz first identified her target behavior. Stefanie’s aggressive actions are the most detrimental to her success in school, both academically and socially. He identified the situations in which she acts out. Instead of stating specific times like “recess” or “in the hallway”, he used the terms “angry” and “frustrated” as these are the emotions Stefanie was able to identify feeling just before her target behavior. Mr. Yetz identified her behavior, the consequences her behavior can have, her coping strategies, and the positive outcomes that result from using her coping strategies. For each of these items, Mr. Yetz constructed a simple sentence or two. Finally, he put it all together using the images he created on Storyboard That.

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