Monday, May 4, 2009

I Love Sunday School

I wanted to share with all of you a social story that I wrote for my daughter in the last couple of weeks. We've been noticing that she is having a hard time regulating her behavior in Sunday School, and this is challenging to her teachers and peers. Of course it is hard on us, too, to hear at pick up time that various incidents have occured that morning. We have found in the past that social stories can be quite effective in helping our daughter learn to behave, so I decided to try this approach with her.

For those who are not familiar with social stories, click here for a thorough discussion. From my own experience I see them as a way to put into words and pictures the basic foundational principles of how we want our children to handle a challenging situation. For some children simply looking at another person when spoken to can be challenging, and a social story can be written that addresses this challenge. We have written stories about birthdays (our daughter did not understand that she only gets one each year, which made it harder to enjoy friends' birthdays because she wanted the attention and fun to be focused on her), going home from school, calming down, and now Sunday School. The story is written from the child's perspective and the language can be adapted to whatever level the child is at. I should clarify that I have no formal training in writing social stories, but I've read more than a hundred and have a good feeling for how they are constructed. I should also note that social stories were developed for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, but they can be helpful for almost anyone who has difficulty interacting in a certain social setting, including normative children.

I generally write the text first and then consider what pictures will help explain the text in a visual way. I use our digital camera to take pictures relevant to the story, although I have also used clip art if it's more appropriate or easier. After I add the pictures to the text I format a word document (half sheets of paper make a nice size for the final story size) and print color copies. I then laminate the pages with simple stick-on laminating sheets. I like hooking the pages together on a ring like a keychain. I've also seen examples of putting the pages into ziplock bags and then binding the ziplock bags together (on the zipper end) as a simpler way to protect the pages.

The story needs to be sturdy because it will be read a lot. Ideally the child should read the story with you before they enter the environment where the challenging situation will occur. Several readings can be helpful to be sure the child understands the text and pictures. In this case we read the story with our daughter before she went into Sunday School and then the teacher had her share the story with the children who were in class that morning. We'll probably continue to read the story with her for several weeks to encourage her to make progress in this area.

Here's the story (original text in bold, [comments plain text]). Feel free to copy/adapt it as needed for your own use.

I Love Sunday School!
My name is
[child's name]. On Sundays my family goes to church. [picture of child, picture of church building]
We meet a lot of our friends there. [picture of people gathering at church, candid]
These are some of my friends. [pictures of several other children from Sunday School class - I asked the parents for verbal permission first]
I usually get to eat a snack with my friends and then we go to Sunday School. [picture of child eating snack - this is the schedule at our church, insert whatever activity immediately precedes Sunday School]
In Sunday School we read stories, sing songs, play games, and make crafts that help us learn about Jesus. [pictures taken of kids doing activities in class]
These are some of my Sunday School teachers. [our church rotates teachers, so I inserted pictures of each main teacher]
I know how to listen to my teachers. I sit in my chair with quiet hands and quiet feet. [picture of child sitting in chair quietly - challenging, but possible for our child. This is the part she's having trouble with, but we want her to know that we know she can do it.]
I can ask the teacher if I need help. [picture of child interacting with teacher - again challenging, but something she can do]
I can try to have fun with my friends when I listen and tell them what I need. [picture of child having a good time in Sunday School - emphasizes the rewards of good behavior]

It's important to note that the results may not be immediate from using a social story. Sometimes they are (the birthday story worked like a charm!) but sometimes the child will actually respond by pushing the limits more. The important thing is that the social story gives you common ground to return to. I find that the process of writing the text helps me understand what I expect her to do. This Sunday when our daughter started to have problems the teacher was able to say, "Now what did your story say...?" and it helped our daughter calm down more quickly than previously. Hopefully eventually we'll avoid the trouble to begin with.


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