Strategies to Help Children with Autism Cope with Social Situations and Increase their Independence in the Classroom
Social stories and picture activity schedules are two relatively new and promising interventions for students with autism.
A major challenge for many individuals with autism is learning to tolerate change and how and when to use communication and social interaction skills within the typical rules and conventions that govern social situations (Wetherby & Rydell, 2000). Social stories explain social situations and concepts, including expected behaviors of the persons involved, in a format understandable to an individual with ASD. Social stories can answer a child’s questions about concepts and provide information about social behavior that she is not likely to ask for or obtain in other ways (Gray, 1994, 2000). According to Gray and Garand (1993), social stories can be used to describe a situation and expected behaviors, explain simple steps for achieving certain goals or outcomes, and teach new routines and anticipated actions. Although the purpose of social stories is to describe the situation, not direct the child’s behavior (Gray, 1994), a number of studies have reported improvements in children’s behavior after systematic exposure to social stories (e.g., Hagiwara & Myles, 1999).
Providing social stories before an event or activity can decrease a child’s anxiety, improve his behavior, and help him understand the event from the perspective of others (Gray & Garand, 1993; Hagiwara & Myles, 1999; Ivey, Heflin, & Alberto, 2004; Kuoch & Mirenda, 2003).
Ivey and colleagues (2004) found that three 5- to 7-year-old boys with autism increased their independent and appropriate participation in novel activities when parents introduced stories to the children and read them once a day for 5 days before the events. In addition to story text, photographs and line drawings depicting key information and important aspects of the events were attached to each page.
Picture Activity Schedules.
Some level of independent performance is needed for success in inclusive classroom settings (Massey & Wheeler, 2000). For preschoolers with autism, a lack of play skills “might prevent opportunities for learning and successful participation in inclusive classrooms. The impending isolation might serve to perpetuate the children’s deficits in socialization and communication” (Morrison, Sainato, BenChaaban, & Endo, 2002, p. 58). Several studies have found that children with autism can be taught to use picture activity schedules to increase their independence in selecting and carrying out a sequence of activities in the classroom (e.g., Bevill, Gast, MaGuire, & Vail, 2001; Bryan & Gast, 2000; Massey & Wheeler, 2001; McClannahan & Krantz, 1999; Morrison et al., 2002). For examples of activity schedules and information on creating and using them in the classroom.
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