Tuesday, February 20, 2007

When is DTT Unreasonable? When Social Stories Eliminate a Behavior!

I am like-minded with the ABA proponents who see the benefits of Social Stories™. Several ABA sites (even those that ignore sensory and diet issues) plug Carol Gray's Social Stories™. Polyxo, a site with detailed information on ABA and DTT, describe how they implement Social Stories™. Even the Association for Science in Autism Treatment reviewed Social Stories™ favorably with the caveat that they be used in conjunction with ABA.

Carol Gray explains Social Stories™ at her site:
A Social Story™ describes a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format. The goal of a Social Story™ is to share accurate social information in a patient and reassuring manner that is easily understood by its audience. Half of all Social Stories™ developed should affirm something that an individual does well. Although the goal of a Story™ should never be to change the individual’s behavior, that individual’s improved understanding of events and expectations may lead to more effective responses.
What most impresses me about her stories is that Carol deeply respects autistic people. She recognizes sensory integration issues. She takes bullying so seriously, she wrote a guide devoted to the topic with practical activities for children to confront bullying. She seeks to balance the social equation by helping us better understand people with autism through the process of writing Social Stories™ and helping the child understand a situation better and possibly respond more appropriately. One of my favorite quotes from her site is,
While people with ASD appear to sit alone at the top of the social teeter-totter, the blame for their lack of success or frequent struggles does not lie solely with them. People on the “other end of the teeter-totter” can do much to promote social success for all participants in an interaction, even those with ASD.
Rather than explain Social Stories™, I can tell you what they are not. They are not long lists of rules that make you as shaky as a caffeine addict early in the morning! They are not carved-in-stone commandments cleverly cloaked in a story. They try to include very few directive sentences and couch them with words like, "I will try to" or "It is a good idea to."

The best way to learn how to write them is to go to the source! Her workshops are great, and, if unable to attend one, her video is the next best thing. She has some free tips on getting started, but the current guidelines are available in a PDF file costing only $7 (a bargain compared to the price tag of other therapies). Her two books with collections of Social Stories™ provide shells that helped me get started, but I really did not understand the process until I attended a workshop. The Social Stories™ Quarterly are full of great ideas.

Why I favor Social Stories™ over DTT for behavior is that they dovetail beautifully with Charlotte Mason's principles of education and belief in masterly activity. In her fourth principle of education, she warns about heavy reliance upon direct influence,
These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.
The point of a Social Story™ is to provide information, not change behaviors. Through this process, the autistic person and storywriter learn more about the situation and their perspectives. While the autistic person might accept the ideas in the story and respond differently, he is free to reject these suggestions because he lacks enough information or the story aimed at the wrong issue. Carol Gray trusts people with autism to make appropriate choices when armed with greater insight. In her nineteenth principle, Charlotte writes,
Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas. To help them in this choice we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range of the knowledge fitted to them. These principles should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.
Social Stories™ are kindred spirits to Charlotte's concept of masterly activity, for she preferred a thoughtful and purposeful letting alone over heavy-handed dominance:
We try to dominate them too much, even when we fail to govern, and we are unable to perceive that wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education.

Last spring, a need arose for a Social Story™ when Pamela started growing angry at rehearsals for a church musical. Whenever we had to repeat a song or skipped around in the book, she grew increasingly upset. I suspected she thought rehearsal ended when we finished the last song in the book. Skipping around and repeating songs confused her expectations of when rehearsals would end. I imagined the problem might be solved if she focused on time instead.

I thought it might improve her understanding by explaining the difference between rehearsals and a performance. I wanted to explain the different parts in a chorus and how one part might want to review a few lines. Pamela and I usually sing soprano together, but as there were no men at first, I helped her brother learn tenor. To make her smile, I put the names of her favorite songs in the story. This is what I wrote:

“Celebrate Life!” is a musical. Our church can do this musical on Sunday, June 11, 2006. On the night of the musical, the singers can sing all the songs in order. After the organ music, they can sing the first song, “Prepare a Way for the Lord.” Then they can sing the second song, “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” They can sing all the songs until the last one, “Prayer for Peace.” Organ music is at the end. That night, the singers can sing the songs in the right order from beginning to end.

A choir has four groups of singers. Each group has their own notes. They follow their own line of music. The high voices are called sopranos and altos. Mom and I have soprano voices. Mom thinks I have a pretty voice. The audience thinks I have a sweet smile. The low voices are tenor and bass. David has a tenor voice. Mom can help David with his tenor part during practice. Mom can sing the soprano part with me on June 11.

The singers can practice on Sundays and Wednesdays. Another word for practice is rehearsal. Pastor Debra is the director. In rehearsal, the director picks different songs. Sometimes, Pastor Debra follows a different order from the book. That is okay. Sometimes, the singers need to practice one song two or three times. That is okay. Sometimes she has a group like the altos or tenors practice their part alone. Sometimes the sopranos practice alone. This can help each part learn the correct notes. That is okay too.

Going in a different order can be frustrating. Repeating a song can be frustrating. I can bring a watch to check the time. Mom will try to tell me what time rehearsal will be finished. When I get frustrated, I can check the watch. Then I can figure out how many minutes are left. If I need a break, I will try to say, “I want a break.” It is okay to take a short break.

This story solved the problem! Within a few rehearsals, Pamela's outbursts decreased. I did not write a story when we started doing two thirty-minute performances in a row at one rehearsal. That was too much for Pamela. Because she had only ten days to learn choreography for the last song, I told her that it was okay to take a break, but she needed to come back to the stage for the last song. She appeared like clockwork, just as we had agreed!

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