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Social scripts, also known as social stories, are one of the most effective and simple ways to provide support to kids with autism. A social script is a short narrative written in first person that discusses one problem situation. So, they come in especially handy for really any situation that comes up. Sometimes a teacher might use a social script to prepare a child for a scenario or situation, such as: riding the bus, beginning morning work, washing hands after using the bathroom, or working with partners. They can also be implemented when a specific problem situation arises, such as a student who acts out when confused on work or a student who struggles to initiate playing with peers during recess.
Social scripts are an exceptional intervention for kids with autism because they provide structure and routine to situations that may seem scary and overwhelming for the child. They really play on the strengths for kids on the spectrum, while supporting their weaknesses. It should be noted, though, that these scripts can be used with any kids in need. I have used them with kids struggling with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), ADHD, and Intellectual Disabilities (ID).
You can either write your own social story for your student or find pre-made social stories. One benefit to making your own social stories is that you can individualize the script for your student. This can be quite time consuming for busy teachers, though, so pre-made scripts are also a plus.
Once you have at least one social story ready to use, here is how you can easily implement them in your class:
1. Make a special binder just for that child. Put the stories in sheet protectors and then place them in the binder.
2. Show the student his or her binder. Find a special place for it in the room. Then, allow the student to decorate the cover. The idea is that this binder is specially for the student. It’s important that he or she develops a connection with the binder (because it will be an important intervention in times of distress).
3. First introduce one social story at a time. Introduce that story by reading it with your student at a time when the child is calm. In other words, don’t introduce a “Feeling Angry” social story when your student is upset. Similarly, it won’t help to introduce a “Staying in My Seat” story when the student is getting out of his or her seat during a lesson. It should be first introduced long before at a time when the child isn’t in crisis or struggling. The intervention needs to be started before the child actually “needs” it, or it won’t have the same effect.
4. The following day, re-introduce the same social story and have the student read it aloud. Ask questions and discuss the social story. Use this as both an intervention and teaching time. Continue with this for a few days until the student becomes more comfortable with the story. Let the student know that you will ask him or her to read the story sometimes. Explain that it will help when he or she is having a difficult time.
5. Finally, when the student is in need (i.e. feeling angry, going on a field trip, etc.), direct him or her to their binder and have the student read the story again. You can follow up with questions such as, “What should you do?” or “What does the story tell you?”
6. Go ahead and implement other stories this same way. Simple!
More Tips for Using Social Scripts
Give lots of praise and positive reinforcement after the student reads the story. Be specific, such as, “Great job reading your story when you were feeling angry! I bet that helped you figure out how to feel better.” This will build on the understanding that the social stories are a positive way for the student to help him or herself. Some prompting, encouragement, and rewards may be necessary in the beginning. If the student refuses to read the story, you may need to incorporate incentives. Set up a plan that include, “When you read your story when told, you will get to ______” (their preferred activity, such as coloring or music).
The goal is that the child will read the story completely on his or her own when needed. Ultimately, you will be able to phase out any prompts and the student will use this intervention as a tool on their own.
If you want to try out this intervention right away, I have a set of social scripts for elementary and another set of social scripts for middle and high school. I have also been working on creating specific stories for kids with autism. The first Social Scripts for Autism – Emotions is focused solely on emotions, including feeling angry, confused, bored, nervous, and more. Other sets include social scripts for Friendships, School, and Life Skills.
If you love them all, consider buying the bundle. Keep in mind that while these scripts are an ideal intervention for kids with autism, any child with needs can benefit from them.
Give social scripts and try and see what they can do for the students in your classroom!