Provide patience and understanding to autistic children navigating social situations.
Story: Kimberly Tice and Venita Litvack
Imagine taking a trip to a foreign country. On one particular excursion, you become separated from your translator friend who was helping you by conversing with the locals. As you search for your friend, an overwhelming odor fills your nose. It makes you feel extremely nauseated. Some people next to you are also talking so loudly that you can’t concentrate. You try to ask for help or explain your problem, but no one understands you. Seems scary right?
This exact scenario may not be common, but the resultant feelings are all too familiar to a person with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. People with ASD often cannot communicate effectively with others and can become overwhelmed by sensory processing difficulties. For this reason, normal, everyday events can present significant challenges for people with ASD. Even a trip to the supermarket can be daunting.
So, what can be done to help individuals with ASD overcome these challenges? A lot! It depends on your role in their lives. If you’re a parent, teacher, or therapist, writing a social story is a fantastic option. This is a tool that prepares kiddos for success in new scenarios.
Simply knowing what to expect beforehand reduces anxiety, and many of the undesirable behaviors caused by it.
As speech-language pathologists, we found ourselves constantly writing new social stories to help children in our caseload cope during community trips and new situations. We spent so much time writing them that we developed our own series, Lou Knows What to Do, to help people tackle common areas of difficulty, such as food allergies, doctor’s visits, and trips to supermarkets or restaurants, for children with ASD. Still, the need for new, individualized social skills stories continues to arise, and knowing what to include in the text can make or break the experience.
If you’re writing a social story for the first time, remember to:
- Clearly describe the setting and events that will take place.
- Include key sensory information, for example, bright lights and loud sounds.
- Use visuals whenever possible; even Google images will work.
- Don’t put too much content on the page.
- Keep it positive! Tell your kiddo what to do rather than what not to do, such as, “Use walking feet” as opposed to “Don’t run!”
- Summarize the main points at the end.
- Ask comprehension questions to make sure your child understands.
What if you aren’t an active member in the child’s life but want to help? Acceptance and understanding can go a long way. When you see a parent in the grocery store trying to help their child who is melting down from sensory overload, offer to help. If they decline assistance, allow them the space they need. Parents and children alike do not want spectators during this moment. Actually, no one wants extra witnesses during their most difficult times. Sometimes compassion is all people want. For business owners, offering a quiet room for everyone to collect themselves is always a much-appreciated gesture.
Whether you are a parent, teacher, therapist, or stranger, anyone can be helpful in the life of a child with autism. Even if they can’t verbally say, “Thank you,” know that your efforts are appreciated.
About the writers → Kimberly Tice provides intervention in language, learning, literacy, and feeding to people with autism spectrum disorder as a speech language pathologist and certified special educator. Venita Litvack serves people with ASD in a variety of settings as a speech language pathologist and augmentative and alternative communication consultant.