Encouraging Positive Behavior with Social Stories: An Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

By Crozier, Shannon; Sileo, Nancy M. | Teaching Exceptional Children, July/August 2005 | Go to article overview

Encouraging Positive Behavior with Social Stories: An Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders


Crozier, Shannon, Sileo, Nancy M., Teaching Exceptional Children


There seem to be more and more children diagnosed with one of these disorders. This article can help teachers in inclusive classrooms work with all their students to encourage positive behavior and increase learning (see boxes, "What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?" and "What Does the Literature Say?").

To take advantage of the appeal of both graphic and story elements for many students, teachers can design stories that encourage students to behave positively in social situations, such as eating lunch, playing in the playground, using the library, lining up, and working with other students in groups. Social stories have a long pedigree in a teacher's family of strategies.

Applying Social Stories in the Classroom

Learning to use social stories effectively does not require extensive training. Many educators can use social stories-classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, and related service personnel. The decision to include social stories in a behavior plan should be made by the individualized education program (IEP) team. As with any decision, team members should integrate social stories into the IEP or behavior support plan in a way that complements other interventions and strategies.

To ensure maximum benefit, teachers should use a systematic checklist for writing and using social stories. Based on the steps for conducting a functional assessment (O'Neill et al., 1997), we have identified six steps necessary for the effective use of social stories: identify the need, conduct a functional assessment (O'Neill et al.), include social stories as part of a comprehensive behavior support plan, write the social story, implement and monitor student progress, and evaluate using data (see Figure 1; O'Neill et al).

Step 1: Identifying Target Behavior

The primary teacher (e.g., the general or special education teacher) or another team member (e.g., related service personnel, paraprofessional, or parent) must identify a target behavior. You should do this informally through regular observation of the student or through more formal assessments. For example, a student may talk or vocalize at inappropriate times, have difficulty staying with a group, or be unable to follow the rules of a game.

The team can prioritize behaviors for intervention in a variety of ways:

* According to level of risk to the student or others.

* According to how irritating the behavior is.

* According to how isolating the behavior is.

* The behavior most likely to respond quickly to intervention.

* The first behavior in an escalation chain.

* The most difficult or entrenched behavior a student displays (Barlow & Hersen, 1984).

Step 2: Conducting Functional Assessment

Once you have selected the target behavior, you should conduct a functional assessment. The functional assessment provides a picture of what the behavior looks like and allows you to develop a hypothesis as to what causes or maintains the student's behavior. An informal functional assessment may take only 15 minutes, while a detailed, formal assessment could take several hours. A functional assessment should take only as long as required to obtain an accurate picture of the target behavior and to generate a hypothesis. Behavioral observations, interviews, and self-assessments are all useful tools for data collection during a functional assessment (O'Neill et al., 1997).

One way to accurately assess a behavior is to collect data on the frequency or duration of the target behavior over several days. You need to know how frequently or how long a student engages in the behavior before you introduce the social story. Such data provide a baseline on which to compare the student's behavior after the social story intervention is in place. Without this information it is difficult to gain an accurate picture of how effective the social story was in changing behavior.

Step 3: Making a Plan to Include Social Stories

You and the team should use the data to select appropriate interventions once you have established a baseline and developed a hypothesis of why the behavior occurs. …

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