One of the first forms of therapy we started after both of the kids were diagnosed with developmental delays was attending a playgroup once a week. This was lead by a handful of Speech and Occupational Therapists through the school district’s Early Intervention program.
This group was made up of about 5-6 other children under the age of three and at least one parent would attend with them. We had a Playgroup “leader” who was a Speech Therapist and then several other therapists on hand to guide the parents and children through the scheduled activities.
Now, as a quick reminder, all of these children had little to ZERO communication skills… I take that back, their communication at this point was to cry, scream, kick, hit, flop onto the ground, and run away. So imagine having to instruct a group of these children through a round of structured tasks and activities. (Insert Face Palm Emoji)
If you are new here, check out the first blog post of this series, “Our Journey with Sensory Processing Disorder”
The first month I would leave these groups sweating and stressed the heck out. My kid spent the whole time screaming, thrashing and fighting me every time I would try to re-direct them to the task we were supposed to be doing. In my head we had spent the whole time disrupting the class, other parents judging me for my out of control toddler, and leaving utterly defeated having learned nothing.
I think the therapists could sense my exhaustion and feeling of defeat because after a few weeks I was given a handmade laminated storybook. They called it a “Social Story” about our playgroup and told me I should read it to my child a few times before the next time we meet.
What is a Social Story?
Social stories are narratives to increase appropriate social behaviors. These stories are visual, different for each situation, and give very specific step-by-step information for that situation. Social stories are written in the child’s voice from their perspective. These stories were presented to me to be used as an aid for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, but can guys this can help ANY CHILD! I think it is fair to say ALL toddlers struggle with transitions especially when it feels unusual to them.
As I am not necessarily an expert on this topic here is a great page that will break this tool down for you. See an excerpt below.
What it takes to make a Social Story?
– This part answers the wh- questions relevant to the situation. Where it is, who it’s occurring with, and why it’s happening.
– This part includes opinions, feelings, ideas related to the situation.
– This part includes a range of responses for a particular situation. It’s important that they have a positive focus and refrain from using “I have to” or “I must” in them.
– This part includes statements that enhance the importance of the message to reassure the person.
– This part includes statements to provide meaning to a situation
How this tool worked for us
So I started reading this book to Ella every single day until our next playgroup. Each page had a picture of her actual classroom with one short sentence and it read a bit like this…
” When I go to Playgroup…I enter the school… I wait for my teacher… I enter the classroom… I hang up my coat and my backpack. First I will do the obstacle course. I will walk the balance beam. I will slide down the slide. Next, I will go to circle time. I will listen to my teacher and sit on my spot. I will listen while my teacher reads us a story. Next we will sing songs. I love to dance and sing…. “
This magical little book walked us step by step through the entire hour long playgroup. Every step. Every activity. With real life pictures.
When the day came for our next playgroup I grabbed the book and pointed to the first page. “Ella, Let’s go to playgroup”. Her face lit up, she seemed to understand. When we pulled into the parking lot I showed her the book and pointed to the next page. “Let’s go wait for our teacher”. She held my hand while we waited. When her teacher arrived and we walked into the classroom, I showed her the page and said “Let’s put away our coat and our backpack”, and she stopped her attempt to run off and helped me put her stuff in the cubby.
That day was the first day she walked the balance beam, crawled through the tunnel, sat during circle time, cooperated during art time, and tried a few new foods at snack time. It was truly magical. I could have cried. The teachers were also in shock.
I should say here that not every child is going to follow social stories right away. It may take several attempts to follow through the story and steps with them for it to really sink in. This particular situation seemed to be extra special because it was the first time we bridged the gap in communication with Ella.
We repeated this exercise for the next few weeks and slowly we phased the book out and only needed to remind her occasionally if she missed a step. It completely changed our experience at these playgroups and opened a door for us to be able to communicate with our toddler.
You see, toddlers love predictability and structure. If you have a toddler with Sensory Dysfunctions this trait can be a bit heightened. I have had people tell me that their sense of “Fight or Flight” is elevated and that is SO true with our kids. So being able to show them images of something new they will have to experience, while also using first person descriptions, helps them visualize it and for that experience to feel more familiar.
To say we used this tool regularly after this first successful experience is quite an understatement.
Ways to create social stories
It is honestly a super easy thing to create once you understand the basics. You can be as fancy or as basic as you would like. We loved when our therapists would create ones for us using their laminator because we didn’t keep all those tools at home. When we needed to make ones ourselves we would find pictures online or take pictures with our phone and print them at home. You could easily create a little slide show and keep it on your phone. If you have the ability, videos work amazingly well also.
Social Stories can be used for all sorts of activities and tasks:
“I go to the zoo”, ” I eat at restaurants”, “I use the potty”, “I can ride on an airplane”…
Basically any situation that might be different or difficult for your child, these come in hand.
Here are a few other great tools when it comes to creating or finding social stories that have already been created:
- Canva.com to create your own (Grab my template)
- Youtube and search “Social Story [Insert subject]”
- Teacherspayteachers.com and search “Social Story”
- “Social Stories” app in Apple App Store
- “EQ Mighty” app in Apple App Store
Okay, I know this is a lot of information and you are probably begging to see an example at this point. Don’t worry, I have got you covered! If you are like me, you love the idea of creating social stories but you don’t really want to waste your valuable mom energy on having to create your own. Trust me. I get it.
I have said it several times already and I will keep saying it until I feel like the point has been driven home. We NEED more advocacy for these tools in normal settings. WHY are these tools only brought to attention when you mention a child may be on the spectrum? All toddlers are struggling to communicate with the world around them because they are learning new things everyday. Some toddlers just might have bigger feelings than others about adapting. Either way, social stories can be amazingly helpful for making them feel confident in their environment.
I would love to hear from you if you found any of this helpful or have questions! Just drop a comment below or shoot me a message!
About Shelbi Moore
Mississippi Native started married life in Michigan for eight years until moving to Central Florida in 2020.
She interned at Walt Disney World in 2011, where she met her husband. They were married at Disney’s Wedding Pavillion in 2013.
Since then, Shelbi has worked in sales, event coordination, travel planning, and social media marketing.
After having children whom both had developmental delays, she quit her day job. She channeled her energy into therapy, research, and educating herself on tools for children and their parents with Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism.
Now, she merges her passions for motherhood, travel, and education on their family platform, Mouse and Moore.