Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), along with many other diagnoses, thrive on routine and structure. However, routine is not always possible. Sometimes a transition or an unexpected event occurs and changes a routine. Incorporating social stories about common upcoming transitions and unexpected events can help prepare students and reduce anxiety in changes to their regular schedule. They make it easy for the individual to visualize what will happen and provide suggestions on how to respond.
|Anticipated Changes||Day-to-Day Transitions||Major Transitions|
A transition is typically an anticipated or expected change, which allows time for preparation. It is common for individuals with all degrees of ASD to struggle with transitions and change, big or small, especially in their routines. Anticipated changes allow for the creation of scenario-specific social stories to help prepare those individuals who benefit from advanced notice. Storyboard That provides an easy, yet creative way to create a story for those specific changes.
The example storyboard depicts a social story for a child who typically goes home from school, but has to go to an appointment instead one day. By reading this ahead of time with the child, they can mentally prepare for the change in their routine. Many situations can be prepared for ahead of time.
A social story may be beneficial for some of these events:
|Examples of Anticipated Changes|
Everyday transitions are events that are almost guaranteed or expected to happen over the course of a typical day. Of course, unanticipated transitions are always possible, but for the most part, these are events that can be expected to occur on any given day, with some variances between weekday and weekend scheduling.
These types of transitions are more similar to a schedule or routine. Knowing what happens next can be very helpful when working and living with people who tend to be more rigid in their thought processes and dislike change. Social stories in storyboard format are a creative and useful way to create a visual style schedule for students to use.
The example depicts a basic wake up transition board. It prepares the individual for what comes next, while also serving as a daily reminder. Though this is a basic storyboard, it can be created specifically for the individual’s needs.
Here are some other examples where a social storyboard maybe helpful:
|Examples of Day-to-Day Transitions|
There are also larger scale transitions that are not every day occurrences, but are part of life. Major transitions can be difficult for many people, but especially for some people with special needs. People become accustomed to what they know, and it can cause a great stress when there is a major life change. Incorporating a social story ahead of the major change can help introduce the concept and assist in easing into the transition.
Major life transitions may not occur frequently, but they can have a large impact on one’s life. Fortunately, there is typically advanced notice of these events, allowing for proper preparation.
This social story example is for moving to a new home. It can help introduce the individual to their new house and the specifics of it. For actual use, it may be beneficial to use actual photographs of the new home. Actual photographs create a real life visual that the individuals can look out over and over again to gain familiarity. If they have some degree of familiarity prior to moving into a new home, it can eliminate some of the anxiety or stress when adjusting to the new home.
Below are other examples of major life transitions:
|Examples of Major Transitions|
Students with ASD tend to have a more rigid thought process and struggle with spontaneity. Unexpected events can be difficult for them. We may not be able to warn our students when one of those events will occur, but that doesn't mean we can’t prepare them for the possibility of an event happening. Unexpected events can occur in all aspects of life, from home, to school, or out in the community.
Here are some examples of common events that can occur without prior notice:
|Home Events||School Events||Community Events|
Circumstances can change suddenly, anywhere, but these changes frequently take place at home, since that is where people spend a large portion of their time. There are many things that can occur unexpectedly at home. An example of a major, unexpected event would be a power outage. Depending on where you live, a power outage may be an inconvenience or a serious problem, but can be even more stressful for a person with ASD. If an individual is taught what happens when the electricity goes out, they may be able to better process the event when it actually occurs.
Unexpected events can be upsetting or debilitating, but going over some common unexpected events may set the groundwork for more serious issues.
Other examples of unexpected events that could occur in the home:
|Examples of Unexpected Events at Home|
Typically, school is a structured place where students know what to anticipate. All grade levels follow some type of schedule. Sometimes there are unanticipated changes or interruptions such as a fire drill. A fire drill is a somewhat regular occurrence in schools, but can still be over-stimulating, stressful, or even frightening. Students typically don’t know ahead of time when there will be a fire drill, but that doesn’t mean we can’t prepare them for one throughout the school year. A social story can remind students that they are still safe and what they should do prior to the stress of the actual drill.
Social stories are most effective when used with individuals known personally by the storyboard creator, as not all students will benefit from prior preparation for the same events.
There are several common unexpected events that may occur in the school environment:
|Examples of Unexpected Events at School|
Going out into the community is full of uncontrollable factors, resulting in a large potential for unexpected events. It is impossible to anticipate all of them, but it can be helpful to prepare students for some of the possible events. A traffic jam is a common, yet unexpected, occurrence when out in the community.
A social story can help teach that when there is a traffic jam, not much can be done, and that it usually improves after the cause of the jam is passed. Here are a few other possible social story ideas:
|Examples of Unexpected Events in the Community|
If you are new to social stories, please read our introduction to social stories that covers the basics of social stories and how to make effective ones.
For a closer look, please see all of our social story articles:
|Daily Living Skills||Some individuals require explicit instruction on tasks that many of us take for granted. Make a personalized social story to engage the learner.|
|Transitions and Unexpected Events||The unknown is scary for everyone, but unexpected events and transitions can be particularly stressful for individuals with ASD. Help prepare your student or loved one for upcoming changes with a social story.|
|Social Situations||Social interactions can be very stressful for many people, with and without ASD. Make storyboards to show possible situations and outcomes.|
|Adolescent Skills||As kids get older, their interests and needs change. Brooch potentially difficult conversations with a storyboard example.|
|Social Stories in the Classroom||Social stories are also useful for whole group direct instruction of social and coping skills. Use a storyboard to address issues with both individuals and the class.|
|Social Stories for Young Children||Young children often struggle with new concepts or big changes. Create a social story to help prepare even very young children for change or new skills.||
Clearly communicate the expectations for transitions to students, emphasizing the importance of independence. Discuss specific behaviors and actions that demonstrate independence during transitions, such as gathering materials, organizing belongings, and following transition routines.
Provide explicit instruction on the skills necessary for independent transitions. Teach students strategies for managing time, organizing materials, and navigating different environments. Offer opportunities for guided practice and reinforcement of these skills.
Implement visual supports, such as visual schedules, checklists, or cue cards, to assist students during transitions. Create consistent transition routines that students can follow independently, incorporating visual cues to guide their actions.
Gradually increase students' responsibilities during transitions as they demonstrate independence. Start with small steps, such as allowing them to gather materials independently, and then progress to more complex tasks, such as managing their own schedules or navigating between classrooms.
Offer specific and constructive feedback to students as they work towards independence during transitions. Recognize their efforts and progress, reinforcing positive behaviors and problem-solving skills. Encourage them to reflect on their own actions and make improvements.
Encourage students to reflect on their transition experiences and set goals for further independence. Help them identify areas for improvement and develop action plans to achieve their goals. Support their self-advocacy by providing opportunities for them to communicate their needs during transitions.
For transitions, social stories can be particularly effective because they provide a clear and predictable framework for what will happen before, during, and after the transition. The social story can describe the transition step-by-step, including what will happen, how the individual should behave, and what they can expect to see or hear. This can help reduce anxiety and confusion, and provide a sense of control and predictability for the individual. Social stories are similarly helpful for unexpected events because they can help the individual understand what is happening, why it is happening, and how they should respond.
It can be difficult to know whether a child or student is fully understanding and internalizing a social story, as each individual is unique and may process information differently. However, there are some signs that you can look for to determine if the social story is effective for your child or student such as their level of engagement and attentiveness, their retention and ability to recall, their level of confidence when carrying out the social activity, and their own feedback about how relevant the activity was to them.
Keep in mind that social stories are just one tool in a larger toolkit of interventions for supporting individuals with social learning difficulties. It may be helpful to use social stories in conjunction with other strategies, such as visual supports or role-playing activities, to ensure that your child or student is getting the support they need to succeed. Additionally, it may be useful to consult with a licensed healthcare professional or educational specialist for more guidance on how to use social stories effectively.
Consider their interests, preferences, and learning style when creating the social story. Also bear in mind that using multiple strategies can be more effective in helping your child or student understand and remember the key concepts and skills presented in the social story, depending on their challenges. A good strategy to start with is to focus on the specific skills or strategies that your child or student needs to learn or practice. For example, if your child struggles with unexpected events, focus on strategies such as deep breathing or positive self-talk to help them manage their emotions. Make adjustments to your approach as needed to ensure that the social story is, in fact, meeting your child or student's needs.