Social Stories for Everyone

In anticipation of our beach vacation, I’ve been prepping our middle child for the disruption in routine, change in his environment, and new expectations that a beach trip will bring because autism is often accompanied by its companion, anxiety. Our son struggles with newness, which results in crying and escape behavior. For years we’ve used social stories to help him navigate change, and it has evolved into social story videos where we convey what will happen, who will be there, and what he can expect to experience. We do this to reduce his anxiety and give him the confidence to approach new situations, and it occurred to me this week just how powerful this tool really is and that we all could utilize it right now as the world reopens and moves through each states phases and restrictions.

My dentist’s office created a video showing patients exactly what visiting their office will now look like. It began with entering their parking lot, followed by direction to call their office. When determined safe to enter the building, the staff member walked the patient in and straight back to their treatment room. The video tour showed the changes made to the waiting area; no longer filled with chairs and hard to disinfect magazines. Next was the extensive steps taken to minimize touchpoints and germ exposure. In doing so they are helping to reduce the anxiety associated with a change in routine, environment, and expectations, thus allowing patients to comfortably resume their service.

At the start of the pandemic, I had read a meme that said “The whole world is frustrated with last minute change. NOT SO FUN IS IT? – AUTISTICS EVERYWHERE” and it completely resonated with us because we are constantly in the business of jumping through hoops to traverse unexpected events and changes in our environment with our son.

I think that we could learn a lot from our friends with autism and what works for them. I think we may find that we don’t cope much differently and can respond to the same steps used to address the anxiousness that we are feeling as we begin to transition back into a world filled with Plexiglass shields, mask requirements and one-way directional flows.

Families need to understand what it will look like for their children to go back to school, whether that is to preschool or their first year of college. And until they envision it, much like prospective buyers eyeing homes for sale on the market, unless it’s staged and displays the potential, the property will sit, and the same goes for colleges praying for increased enrollment. Families will nervously sit, wait, and watch.

Until we can acknowledge and address the anxiety that exists, we will remain in this painful limbo of uncertainty, which just serves to further increase the anxiety already present. Let’s take a page from the autism handbook, and begin communicating with each other what the expectations will be, how things are different, and what we can do to move through this new world.  I encourage businesses, preschools, therapy clinics, schools, and colleges to consider demonstrating what returning will look like. I think it will do a ton of good to help us all return with confidence.

Meanwhile, I’ll be over here, showing my son the video I created that gives him an audiovisual tour of where we will be staying and what he can expect. By doing so, I am involving him in the learning process, and this involvement translates into the empowerment to move forward with confidence.

For tips on creating social stories, check out: