TIP of the WEEK: Harnessing the Power of Social Stories (a guest post)

January 16, 2015

Our view of the world is a combination of early experiences: successes and failures, memories of trial and error as well as a compilation of how the outside world responds to us and how that makes us feel. For some of us, navigating society is just that: dodging, responding, and then the always tough lessons of “I WON’T DO THAT AGAIN!”.

Many individuals with PWS struggle with cognitive rigidity and cognitive inflexibly, or understanding situations as black and white. For example, I know all the rules, or I do not know any rules, or this situation is really good or this situation is really bad. This kind of thinking can lead to an individual having set ideas about what should happen in a given social situation. Additionally, it can create challenges for an individual to take in and then practice what is learned about how to react during social situations. In all situations we are given tasks or demands to complete to attain a goal. When a task or demand is given and there is a “cognitive mismatch” due to a lagging skill area (such as cognitive flexibility), the result is a behavior.

When an individual with cognitive rigidity has a set idea about a social situation and expectations are not met, it can lead to a socially unacceptable behavior.  Social Stories are useful in avoiding this cognitive mismatch and instrumental in teaching the child what they need to understand in order to attain the goal. Social Stories are effective tools used to help students with PWS understand multistep situations (such as daily schedule, getting on a plane, or morning routines), social situations/social norms and perspectives of others (such as expressing a feeling, saying hello to friends, navigating a triggering event) using a story format. Effective social stories use text and visuals. They are individualized to meet the needs of specific students and situations written from the perspective of the person using them.

Here are tips on using Social Stories effectively:

  • Use Social Stories any time your child will be experiencing a new event/routine or situation outside of his or her typical schedule.
  • Make the Social Story short and concise.
  • Use positive language and refrain from referring to consequences for not following the plan.

Social Stories are used to prepare your child for the unknown or anxiety causing situation. The more they are used the more effective they are.

An example of a social story:

Given their visual nature, Social Stories are a concrete tool that can be used to lower anxiety about any given situation. It is important to always involve the student in the creation of the story by reading and repeating the story and asking the student clarifying questions to ensure they understand.  The active involvement of the student through creation and repetition is instrumental in reinforcing the specific lesson and increasing the individual’s ability to retain and apply knowledge.

 “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
~Benjamin Franklin

Submitted by guest authors and Latham clinicians
Gina Sheehan and Lauren Titus

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