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Social Stories and airplane trips September 11, 2008

Posted by speakingaut in interaction, medical, social.
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One of the blogs I follow regularly is called Parent Hacks. It’s full of parenting tips and shortcuts, and while I’m not a parent, there are enough children in my life that I can use the tips. A tip that was posted today caught my eye, since it’s geared toward parents of autistic children: “‘Social Stories’ coach kids through transitions and new situations.” There’s evidently a specific way to write them, but I’d tailor it to the needs of the child or children I’m writing for.

The post also links to a collection of examples.

I remember when I was little, I was really nervous about new situations. It really helped when people explained to me exactly what to expect when, what counted as “normal” and when I should ask for help, and addressed any other questions I had. I also remember asking many of these questions several times. Considering that I started reading when I was two, it might have been easier to have things written down. (Come to think of it, I think that did happen a few times.)

I’m still nervous about new situations, of course, but it’s less paralyzing now, and the good thing is, I can do my own research now. If I go in for a medical procedure, for instance, I read up on what exactly to expect. And one of the requests I make of any doctor who treats me is “please let me know what you’re going to do and what it’s for before you do it.” Nothing turns me off from a doctor faster than being surprised by something simple.

A different example: When I was six or seven, I went to Disneyland with a close family friend. While I’d been on airplanes before, it had been when I was a baby, and if I remembered, the memories were spotty at best. When it came time for me to leave, I was terrified. I had a basic idea of what would happen, but nothing measurable or specific. It certainly didn’t help that when the friends I was with showed me a map of the United States, they joked around by pretending our route took us on a looping course around the country, but I couldn’t have done anything about that.

(No social story could have prepared me for losing one of my favorite shoes in the Pacific or having the plastic toy sword I’d bought at the Pirates of the Carribean gift shop confiscated at airport security, either, but that’s another story.)

Of course, now I understand what’s going on and what to do in what situations, I am the family’s second most fearless flier. I’ve been in one of the world’s largest airports, in a country where I don’t speak the language (aside from a few choice words I can’t repeat here), on a flight that landed twenty minutes late, with only the vaguest of instructions on where to go next, and I’ve made it to the rendezvous point on time.

But the beautiful thing about liking to know what’s going to happen before it does is that I was able to pay it forward. One time, I was flying solo. The plane I was supposed to be on had just landed and its passengers were disembarking, and the little boy who was across from me at the gate kept asking his mother what was going on. His mother kept saying she didn’t know.

So I braved the whole “talking-to-strangers” thing, and once I got permission from his mother, I told the boy that the plane had been full of people who wanted to come here, and now that it was empty, we needed to wait for people to clean it. I told him that they were going to put the checked luggage on the plane and call the passengers up in groups, and that once he was in his seat, he should put his seatbelt on and listen to the instructions the cabin crew gave. I even told him he could wave at the pilot on the way out of the plane.

The kid’s response?

“Oh. That’s cool.”

So yeah. This works with (presumably) neurotypical kids, too. As a rule, knowledge reduces fear.

Even if you don’t have time to write stories yourself, there are books already existing that are extremely helpful. I remember reading a series of books by Fred Rogers that dealt with first experiences, and the Berenstain Bears are classics by now. (I have no knowledge of what the newest ones are like, but I have fond memories of the ones that were in print when I was a child.)

In conclusion: Man, that’s a longwinded way to say “ooh, these things are a great idea.”

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Comments»

1. Osh - September 12, 2008

Great post! “Knowledge reduces fear” very much holds true.

2. leechbabe - September 13, 2008

Great post. It is wonderful to know these stories do help and spread the word to others about them.


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