Searching for Social Stories Online - Spotting the Green Flags
At a Glance
In this post, we will go over some potential green flags to look out for when searching for social stories online. These can be more helpful related to your goals with social stories.
Sometimes social stories do fall into some traps that can make them less effective tools or do more harm than good, but there are so many excellent and helpful social stories out there that it would be a shame to miss out on their potential benefits.
We have selected a few of our green flags, positive signs that the social story you are evaluating might be the right fit for you!
Last week we talked about some of the potential red flags you may encounter when searching for social stories online, but also about how it is worth seeking out social stories because there are so many excellent and helpful narratives out there. This week we are going to focus on the green flags that can help identify the best social stories just as the red flags can signal social stories that are best avoided. As with last week we’d love to hear about your green flags when it comes to social stories - just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will jump into some of ours!
Sometimes social stories are written with a focus on a particular harmful behavior, and having that focus is not inherently a bad thing.
Some actions can lead to harming oneself or others or crossing boundaries and are necessary to address.
It’s also important when writing such a social story to do so with the understanding and recognition that these things do not happen in a vacuum and often have multiple contributing factors.
The fundamental issue with this approach, even when genuinely harmful behavior is being addressed, is that it centers the part of the challenge that stands out to allistic people and can completely disregard or treat as secondary the needs of the autistic person who is meant to benefit from using this tool.
It’s worth noting too that with the allistic bent of this approach, sometimes these types of stories will seek to “address” types of behavior that aren’t really problematic and may just stand out as not fitting in with allistic social norms.
Remember, people are more than just their external behaviors, and supporting a person effectively means supporting the whole person!
Centered on the Needs of the Person Using It
It can be tricky to spot this green flag and distinguish it from behavior-centered social stories - after all many social stories do involve a particular behavior as a topic and most social stories do include the person using it as the central figure in the narrative.
The key difference, however, is that behavior-fixated social stories see the ceasing of a particular behavior as an end unto itself, rather than just one component of a challenge the person using the social story may be facing.
A behavior-fixated social story related to yelling, for example, might focus on how yelling is bad and disruptive and we can learn to be quiet.
Alternately, a more needs-centered approach would be cognizant of the reality that things like sensory challenges or difficulty communicating may be leading to situations where yelling occurs, and that finding ways to address those challenges is more likely to address the needs of the person using the story than just getting the yelling itself to stop.
As we said last week, social stories are a tool we practice using outside of the relevant situations in the hope that they will be helpful when the time comes, so it makes great sense to focus on the whole picture and ensure we are putting the needs of the person first.
Stepping Stone Goals
Last week we spoke about negative goals as a social story red flag, and one of the core problems we talked about is how those types of goals are hard to build upon in a way that is helpful to the person pursuing those goals.
Which is why we want to highlight stepping stone goals as a great green flag! A good stepping stone goal is one that will help bring you into sight of another related goal once it is reached.
For example, a social story related to preventing hair chewing might frame its goal as identifying alternative stims or stim toys that don’t carry health risks.
Once that goal is accomplished, some stepping stone goals can include keeping a particular stim item available for when it may be needed, keeping an item clean or asking for help cleaning it when needed, identifying alternative stims in situations where favorites are not available, and asking for space to safely stim when needed.
The key is that the next steps tie back to the original goal and offer a tangible benefit when mastered!
In keeping with centering social stories on the person using it and their needs, social stories are at their best when they explain the clear practical impetus for taking a particular course of action.
To carry over our hair chewing example from the last section, the primary problem with hair chewing is the risk factor it carries for germs and getting sick.
It’s also a good litmus test for whether a particular social story is necessary - if you can’t explain the practical benefit of what we are doing in the context of a social narrative then maybe that social narrative isn’t meant to serve the student!
With a practical framing, you are also giving the person using the story an opportunity to weigh the benefits against the potential costs of change and make an informed decision on the best course of action.
From a social story writing standpoint, thinking about the practicality narrative early can help ensure that the narrative stays centered on the needs of the person it is serving rather than checking boxes for other people.
Last week we talked about shaming as a red flag and how frustrating shaming narratives can be for people who are already navigating challenges with a given situation.
Whereas shaming can be a harmful practice in social stories, words of encouragement can be incredibly helpful!
Words of encouragement can remind readers that just because they are in a challenging situation does not mean that they are bad and that they are capable of reaching a better place.
When laying the groundwork for using a social story this may involve some discussion on what a person can or already has done, so that by the time a social story is needed those words of encouragement have as much weight and are as strong a reminder as possible.
As always, kindly reminding people of the ways they can get through a challenging situation is more helpful than telling them they’re wrong or bad for being in that situation in the first place.
One reality we often talk about is that every autistic person is different, and another reality is sometimes solutions that work on one day for a given person just aren’t as effective on another day for that same person!
Reflecting the reality that those differences exist is a sign of a great social story.
While no social story can possibly anticipate every single applicable solution that could potentially work for someone, they can provide a reasonable baseline of options along with the added implication that a person finding a different solution that works for them is also great!
While it isn’t always easy to lay out numerous options in a limited space, when pulled off successfully it can be an incredibly valuable component of the tool.
Keep an eye out for social stories that lay out multiple options on how to navigate a challenging situation and leaves it to the reader to decide.
We hope this mini-series on red flags and green flags has offered some tools for navigating the sometimes complicated world of social stories and helped narrow your search for the one that fits your specific situation.
If you’d like to share some of your experience with these red or green flags or just talk about some social stories you wish you could find we’d love to hear from you at email@example.com!
In the meantime may we all find the social narratives that best fit our needs or the needs of people we are supporting.
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