Social Narratives: Part 1 of 2
As you may have noticed, I have been writing a regular column highlighting one of the 28 evidence-based practices (EBPs), otherwise known as ‘things are have a lot of proof behind them that they really work’ in helping people with autism (Steinbrenner, 2020). This is a recently updated list from Wong’s earlier work (2016) outlining 27 EBPs. As an educator involved in the field of inclusive education and as a parent working to support my own kiddo, I am all about finding what really works and excited when new developments like this occur. Each month, I plan to highlight one of these (now) 28 EBPs for you.
This month, I plan to highlight the EBP of ‘social narratives’. SNs are usually associated with ‘social stories’ but it is broader as we will also discuss ‘power cards’ (which may be a new term to you). This will be part one of a three part series highlighting this one strategy. Much of the information in this article is from the related AFIRM online module (link below).
Why choose to try a social narrative? They are a great tool to describe social situations by providing relevant cues, can help to explain the thoughts and feelings of others, and provide descriptions of appropriate behavior expectations. SNs can be effective with very young to young adult: pre-school (3-5 years) through to high school age (15-22). SNs are being used in many environments by teachers, paraeducators (EAs), interventionists, and parents and family members. Talk about a versatile tool!
Social narratives can address a TON of goals. Here are a few:
For instance, I had read a story about how to navigate time at the mall, which had included a food court page in the story. Within the story, one character had their ice cream fall out of the cone onto the ground and although the story explained that he was very upset, he took a deep breath and calmly asked if he could get it replaced and that worked as a viable solution. I hadn’t thought much of it at the time, but fast forward six months later and I am at the mall food court with my own kiddo. He had ordered fries and accidentally knocked them onto the ground before eating any. It was like time froze for both of us for a split second (maybe just for me…) and I could see the panic in his face. I braced myself for a possible meltdown but, to my great surprise, he took a breath and slowly forced out the words, “Is this just like the time Tommy dropped his ice cream and just asked for more and it all worked out? Should I just ask to see if the fries can be replaced and see if that works out?” Honestly, it took me a minute to remember the social story we had read those months ago but once I did and got over the shock of his measured reaction, I nodded emphatically and got him new fries as fast as possible. It was such a relief and positive experience with the help of that social story we had read together! Things are always more convincing once you see them work so effectively with your own eyes – not simply trusting that it is an evidence based practice.
As I mentioned earlier, there are two types of social narratives: social stories and power cards.
Social Stories - describes a social situation and the viewpoint of other people, and provides strategies for the learner. These can be as simple as one graphic with information and pictures on it or as long as a full story with multiple pages that share a narrative with some direct teaching as well.
Power Cards-consist of 2 parts: a brief story scenario and a Power Card which is a small card with rules outlining behavioral expectations in the social situation. You can incorporate pictures of learner’s special interest into both the scenario and Power Card.
Look for part two of this series to find out more about how to use social narratives in your own home or work to benefit a learner in a really creative, concrete and accessible way. This is another ‘power tool’ for your proverbial ‘tool kit’ of what is proven to work.
If you are interested in checking out the free online AFIRM modules, here is the link (will take you to the social narrative module in particular as I am highlighting this here).
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Carmen has been published in a variety of online and print articles. Writing is a passion and she strives to grow and share her message.