What Are Social Skills?
Social Stories, Video Modeling and Playscripts
by Janice Kern, Chapter Coordinator - TACA of North Dakota
What is a social story?
It's a story, about social events, situations or skills. They can be used to provide information about a situation (especially a novel situation, something very new to a child). Social stories can provide information about a skill and be part of the teaching/learning process. They can explain a new concept - why something is done, how something is done.
A social story is like practicing for a play. It gives the child an opportunity to rehearse a situation before actually have to experience it.
A social story is written to increase a desired behavior. If you want to see more "hands to yourself" and less hitting, the social story will focus on keeping one's hands to oneself.
When writing a social story, be clear and keep the focus on the desired behavior. As in the above example, the story will focus on "hands to yourself" and the UN-desired behavior of hitting will not be mentioned. We don't want to encourage it in any way.
Be very clear with what the desired behavior is - "keep hands to myself" - and repeat that desired behavior throughout the social story. Avoid using the word don't and stick to the words meaning do so that the expectation of the child is clear.
Keep it simple. Avoid using too many words. Here is an example of too many words:
I want to be good and have lots of friends so I need to be nice and keep my hands off of people.
And here is a better example for the same situation:
I have good manners. I keep my hands by my own legs.
I keep my hands by my sides. (include a drawing with obvious hands down by sides)
Determine exactly which skill is the focus of the social story. In the above example, the focus will be keeping hands at sides. Throughout the story, we don't switch to "making my friends happy" or "being kind". Stick with "hands at sides" or "hands to myself".
Things to remember when writing a social story:
The story must be accurate. If something happens in the end of the story, it has to occur in the real life situation. The child will learn to count on the social story and be comforted by knowing what will happen. A trust is built with you (or whomever writes the stories) that you will let him know truthfully what will be happening. This is especially important if a reward is promised at the end.
Social stories are written in the voice of the child "I" and are written in the present tense. Instead of "I will keep my hands to myself" you will write "I keep my hands to myself".
Avoid focus on the undesirable behavior (hitting). Don't even mention it in the story.
Keep it very simple. Short sentences. Clear words.
Use descriptive sentences. Address the wh's of the situation (who, why, when, if I ____, then ____ will happen).
Add in the perspective of others' feelings in the situation. "I keep my hands to myself and this makes my friends comfortable/happy". Kids with autism have difficulty relating to what other people are thinking or feeling. Add this in whenever appropriate.
A control sentence is rarely used but can be beneficial for a high-functioning child. This sentence would usually come at the end of a social story and be thought up by the child. This could be an example: "When I keep my hands to myself, my friends will be happy. I will know they are happy because they will say nice things to me" or "I will know recess is over when the whistle blows because it's like the tea kettle. When the water is ready, the tea kettle whistles.
Writing my own social stories has worked the best. There are many examples of social stories but finding one that meets your child's specific needs is rare. There usually needs to be something added or taken out. By the time you find that perfect social story, you could have written your own.
Here is an example of a social story using pictures. The purpose of this social story was to decrease anxiety around a baby (small toddler) in the family.
Here is an example of a social story also using pictures. The purpose of this social story was to retell an event that had happened. This can create a way for a child to have social interactions with peers. It's like writing out a script for show-n-tell but is basically just a prompt for conversation. Try to make the story a little funny or a little unusual. Make it about something that will make other kids want to hear about it.
Make these social stories very portable (small in size). Send it to school and have the child simply read it word for word and show peers the pictures. After a few times, the child will hopefully retell the story by simply talking instead of reading.
The event in the story needs to be small. Not elaborate. The story should be about ONE thing. For example, don't send your child to school on Monday with a drawn out story about the entire weekend's activities.
Social Story Pictures
Adding pictures (a visual aid) helps a child understand. Obviously for a child not old enough to read, the entire social story will need pictures explaining what is expected. Always include the words with the pictures. Start with basic stick figure drawings. It doesn't need to be elaborate. Don't call your local artist to draw out a social story. You will get better with practice. You will want to get used to writing social stories "on the fly" and quickly so you can use them whenever needed. Keep little notebooks with you so you can write and draw it out when the situation calls for it. When a child responds to social stories, using them more often will increase understanding and comfort.
Print out pictures, cut to size of social story you want and write the social story below the picture or on top of the picture. Crop pictures to get rid of unnecessary clutter that will possibly distract the student.
Where to find social stories:
There are many books, curricula and even DVDs to teach social skills. Below are some of the most helpful. Most are suited for teachers, therapists, homeschoolers and Do-it-yourselfers.
Model Me Kids videos demonstrate social skills by modeling peer behavior at school, on a play date, at a birthday party, on the playground, at a library, at the dentist, restaurant, and more. Real children model and narrate each skill. DVDs for ages 2-17.
The social skills training project utilizes a primarily cognitive-behavioral approach to teach social skills to children, adolescents, and adults who have social-communication difficulties.
TeacherVision has resources that are packed with techniques and strategies to help students with autism and their peers learn to interact with each other. These resources include teacher-initiated and student-initiated techniques that help build social skills and teach academic subjects to children with autism. Printables too.
Books on Social Skills
Writing and Developing Social Stories by Caroline Smith
Super Skills by Judith Coucouvanis
The New Social Story Book, Revised and Expanded 10th Anniversary Edition: Over 150 Social Stories that Teach Everyday Social Skills to Children with Autism or Asperger's Syndrome, and their Peers by Carol Gray
My Social Stories Book by Carol Gray
Comic Strip Conversations by Carol Gray
Navigating the Social World: A Curriculum for Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome, High Functioning Autism and Related Disorders by Jeannie McAfee and Dr. Tony Attwood
Social skills games
Summer camps for social skills
Watching and learning from a video showing the desired skill. There are great videos available:
- Watch me Learn
- Teach to Talk
- Model Me Kids
- Activity Trainer
- Check your library, early start program, school district for availability before buying. TACA Chapters bring loaner libraries to every chapter meeting so be sure to check there too!
The videos are skill specific and age specific. If your child is just starting to play or is emerging with those skills, choose a beginner level video. With more advanced play that can include peers, include peers with watching the video. This will help everyone re-enact the video in real play. This makes play more predictable for the child. If they see the peer re-enacting what they saw in the video they will be aware of what might come next.
Today, most cell phones and digital cameras have the capability to record videos so if you don't have an expensive video camera, don't worry, you can still make great videos for your child. There are inexpensive video cameras like the Flip Video that take good quality video but you will need video editing software. There are many free video editors at www.download.com.
Video of the child acting out (or caught in the act of) desired skills you want to see repeated. Simply put, if you want to see more "cooperative play with siblings" be sure to catch your child in the act of actually performing cooperative play. Show the child the video before play starts as a reminder of the kind of play that is expected. Edit out any undesirable behavior and show only what you want to see more of. If you make a video for "table manners", you may need to prompt your child to say "more please" but then edit the prompt out of the video so the child sees only himself modeling the desired "more please" behavior.
Click here to see a video sample called Playing A Game
Click here to see a video sample called What To Edit Out
Playscripts teach a specific script of play that is written out word for word. Everything needed for that particular playscript is listed. The script is prompted word for word exactly as written. The script and therefore the playtime has a clear beginning and ending.
Why use a playscript?
Playscripts help to know exact prompts for parents, teachers, babysitters, etc... They teach an exact play for the student and peer. They help avoid dead questions by adults and create a purpose for play. A dead question is typically asked of kids with autism by adults who just simply don't know what to say. Dead questions have no answer or expected response and discourage kids from responding. An example of a dead question: Without making eye contact, asking a child "how are you?" when you are really saying "Hello" as a statement. "Are you playing with your cars?" while the child is clearly playing with cars is another example. There is not an answer to that question nor is one expected. The basic answer would be "yeah" but the point is, the answer is never expected. Kids will figure this out in a hurry that they are not expected to respond even though it sounds like a question. They will stop responding to even worthwhile questions. A playscript helps even a high school volunteer in the classroom keep 2 kids involved for a short time in play with purpose.
Writing the playscript
There is an example following to help get your creative juices flowing. Once you write your first playscript, others will come more easily. You may find that after writing it, you need to make additions or take some things out so that it flows as naturally as possible. But you won't want to make changes after that because it will likely cause confusion for the child. The repetition will be helpful in the learning process and be comforting.
Before writing the playscript, consider the location. Where will this play take place? If there are certain toys needed for the play, will the toys be available at home, school, etc.... Consider the natural likes and especially the dislikes of the child. Some kids are very anxious around noise or the possibility of noise so know that you need to avoid musical instruments or balloons for example. Be sure to make it fun. This is very purposeful learning time but it needs to be fun. You want this play to be so much fun that the child and peers will want to do it again and again.
Ideas for classroom: You may need to excuse the student and a peer the first few times to another room or area to act out the playscript so they can focus on the prompts and you can keep it going without distractions from other kids playing.
"Astronauts" - the title needs to be clear and what will naturally be said by kids when they want to play it again. "Let's play astronauts"
Roles: 2 astronauts (student + peer)
Materials needed: 2 helmets, 2 steering wheels, 2 chairs
- Prompt student to choose a friend from pictures
- Student: "Do you want to play astronauts?"
- Peer: "Sure."
- Student: "Ok, follow us."
- Student, peer and adult go to speech room
- Instructor: "Get your helmets on."
- Put helmets on and give each other the thumbs-up sign
- Student: "Let's get in the spaceship."
- Student and peer sit in chairs
- Peer: "Buckle up."
Roles: 2 students + teacher
Materials: 2 chairs, 2 steering wheels, 2 helmets
Script: Student is instructed to pick a friend to play.
- Student: "Do you want to play astronauts with me?"
- Friend: "Sure."
- Student: "Follow me."
- Student and friend are led to speech room for space to play astronauts. Have the materials box ready for play and say "Get your astronaut helmets on."
- Student and friend place helmets on heads and give each other a Thumbs Up sign. (prompt)
- Student: "Let's get in the spaceship."
- Student and friend sit in chairs (spaceship).
- Friend: "Buckle up"
- Student and friend pretend to put on seat belts.
- Student: "Ready for take-off?"
- Friend: "Yes, ready for take-off."
- Student and Friend together count-down: "10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 - BLAST OFF!"
- Prompt for a variety of things to do after blast-off such as "What do you see out your spaceship window?" and they can name planets, stars.
- Friend: "We're almost ready to land on the moon."
- When they have landed on the moon, they can get out of their spaceship and walk around on the moon. They can look far away and see the earth and the sun. It can be cold and dark on the moon.
- Prompt - It's time to get back to earth.
- Student: "Let's get in the spaceship."
- Friend: "Buckle up."
- Student and friend: "Ready for take-off - 10, 9. . . . Blast off!"
- They return to earth.
- They remove helmets, unbuckle.
- Student and friend high 5 each other: "It was great flying with you!"
Toys are put away in a box to be saved until this playscript is used again. This is just "grass is greener on the side" thinking that if they can't play with the toys any time, they won't tire of them and the novelty will remain.