One of the students on my caseload is autistic, and his teacher tells me he has recently developed a fascination with the fire alarms in our school, particularly with the idea of pulling them. A fellow psychologist suggested I develop a social story for this young man that explains appropriate fire alarm protocol (for lack of a better description).
Social stories (for those of us too lazy to click a link!) are short illustrated stories designed to teach social skills to students with autism (and similar developmental disabilities). In a social story, the student will see specific behaviors depicted in concrete terms and learn why they are or are not appropriate (e.g., “hitting other people can hurt them”; “we raise our hand when we need to ask a question”). I was generally familiar with the concept of social stories, but creating my own gave me a new appreciation for the tool, as well as raised more questions than I was able to answer.
At the suggestion of our CST secretary, I decided to illustrate this social story with pictures taken on our campus. I don’t know if this holds any water, but I’m hopeful that seeing familiar, local images in the social story will make the message a little more tangible to this young man than clip art or random pictures off the Internet. The story itself is 8 pages long (including cover) and contains 9 images, of which 3 were obtained from the Internet (1 public domain, 2 licensed under Creative Commons). The remaining 6 I snapped myself over the course of yesterday and today.
In the spirit of Dan’s repeated calls for critique amongst bloggers, I submit to you my first attempt at a social story. Because I’m a big sensitive crybaby interested in sharing my thought process with you, here are some issues that are yet unresolved in my mind:
- I had a hard time nailing the language. Some pages I think are too easy; others, too complex. I guess appropriateness varies by student, but what little text you see is the result of a number of re-writes, and I’m still not sure I’m entirely happy with the final version.
- Don’t know if the pictures are concrete enough. Are they too symbolic, especially the last one?
- I wanted to keep the tone positive, but also make sure the student understood the consequences of pulling false alarms. Like the point above, it’s a fine line to walk between not sugarcoating the issue and not making it too scary.
- The administrative offices picture. I don’t want the student to think that principal = trouble, but…
- I don’t know if the last page is so contradictory as to be confusing to the target audience.
- I didn’t feel the need to include a page of photo credits in the version I’m giving to the student, nor did I black out the face of the administrator who graciously agreed to pose for me. This is the “public” version of the document, so I can attribute my photos properly and not put someone’s face on the Internet who never agreed to it.
OK, without further avoidance ado, I present: