New experiences can be very difficult for some children with autism. As such, many parents avoid new experiences because their children are often happier when settled into a routine. This is completely understandable, but children with autism, like all children, need to experience new things. New experiences help a child grow intellectually, adjust socially and learn coping skills. One key to success for new experiences is pre-planning and social stories are a great tool to prepare a child for any new experience.
Social stories or picture stories help children with autism or other developmental disorders prepare for new experiences (proactive) or correct behavioral issues (reactive). Children with anxiety or sequencing issues can benefit from these stories too. Social stories are pictures, often supported with text, that do the following:
- Describe a situation, action or event
- Outline the steps in a process
- Set parameters of acceptable behavior for children with social, behavioral and language processing disorders.
The goal of these stories is to increase understanding, set expectations, promote self-management and build self-esteem.
At Kidmunicate Pediatric Speech Therapy, we have used social stories with great success. All of the stories we have developed have been inspired by a particular child at our clinic. This is important to note because social stories should be individualized. We attempt to make all the stories we post on our website universally relevant, but we also provide Microsoft Powerpoint® versions of the stories, so that parents, therapists or teachers can customize the text and the images to meet the individual needs of each child.
This is what we recommend to parents of children with autism:
- During the weeks prior to the new experience, read the relevant social story with your child every day.
- To completely prepare your child for a new experience, think through the situation, list any potential problems and create a plan of action to minimize issues and maximize the experience.
- With our social stories, we provide a list of the possible situations that can arise while a parent is preparing a child for a new adventure. You should add to the list to meet the specific needs of your child.
- We also include helpful tips to avoid potential pitfalls during the experience. For example, we developed a social story for a child, who has sensitivity to some textures, prepare for a trip to the beach. We recommended that the parent buy some sand from a local hardware store and let the child feel it, walk on it and see how easily it washes off. We also helped a mom prepare her child for a meal out at a restaurant. We suggested that she ask the hostess to remove everything from the table that might be a distraction (ketchup bottles, sugar packets, etc.) or a danger (knives) before they sat down.
Give Proper Warning
- A day or two before and again an hour or two before let your child know when the actual new experience is going to happen.
- Avoid surprises or last minute changes.
- If possible, try to avoid a full immersion into a new experience the first time.
- For example, If you are going to the beach for the first time, go early in the morning before the sand is hot and the beach is crowded and noisy.
- Another example, if you are preparing a child for a trip to grocery store, try quick in and out trips for a few items before you go on a shopping trip to fill the entire pantry.
- Don’t just try to survive the day, use each moment to teach.
- Remember that these new experiences are meant to increase understanding, set expectations, promote self-management and build self-esteem.
- The more you talk to your child the better his or her speech and language will develop.
- Plan for the best and deal with problems if they occur.
- If your child has a meltdown, don’t take it personally and focus on your child not on the strangers around you.
Again, a child with autism is a child first and foremost. As such, if possible, they should try to do the things that all kids like to do.
You can find the following social stories on Kidmunicate.com/social-stories/
- Preparing for an Airplane Trip
- Preparing for a Professional Baseball Game
- Preparing for a Trip to the Beach
- Preparing for Bowling
- Preparing for Fire Drills
- Preparing for a Grocery Shopping Trip
- Preparing for A New Brother or Sister
- Preparing for a Meal Out