Using Video to Create Social Stories


If you were going to explain what happens during a haircut to a young child with Autism, which of the above photo,s do you think would be more effective?  Obviously, the one on the left.

When my son was about two years old, I went to a workshop on using visual aides with children who are in early intervention.  Early intervention is the time between birth and three for children with developmental delays.  The participants were given tons of what is called “social stories” using clip art, as shown above on the right.  Social stories are basically visual aides created to help support a person with autism in social situations.

During the workshop, I was thinking, my son, who is non-verbal, has severe receptive language delays, impulsivity, and inattentiveness will not be able to grasp meaning from something so abstract.  I couldn’t even make out what some of the images were.  The people were either egg heads or stick figures.  Maybe for more verbal or older children, these images might work, but not for my child. However, I did love the concept.  I decided to tweak the idea and use what I knew would work, pictures, and videos of him.

Most toddlers love to see themselves!  They love to look at their reflection in a mirror and flip through photos and videos of themselves on their parents’ phones.  But also using their own images and videos in a social story places them in the exact setting you are hoping to help them be successful in.  I knew exactly the first topic I would use for a social story.

Haircuts for Barclay were sensory overload.  I felt so bad for him because each one ended in a total meltdown. After he’d be exhausted from writhing and screaming. I also felt terrible for the stylist and every other person within a 100-mile radius.  My husband and I would literally have to pin him down, and it was super unpleasant for everyone involved. I was hopeful a social story could help him be more successful during haircuts.

I decided to make the social story a video instead of still images or a book.  I taught video production for 10 years, so I have some experience, but even beginners can create simple videos.  Programs like iMovie (which is free on your Mac and is also an inexpensive app for your phone) or my preferred PC program, Wondershare Filmora, are very user-friendly.  I also felt Barclay would be much more receptive to watching a video than looking at still images.

I was right! We have been using the social story for about 6 months.  The level of difficulty during hair cuts went from a 10 to a 2!  Here’s the thing to remember, he still is super uncomfortable getting his hair cut, but he is MOTIVATED to try harder to comply.  Sensory issues are his reality, but the social story has helped him be able to manage them more successfully.

Here are the steps you can use with any basic video editing program to create a super-effective social story video.

  1.  SELECT THE TOPIC:  Think about what situations your child really struggles in and how often it arises.  I chose the hair cut because he goes monthly, and it is so unpleasant for him.  Your child may struggle going out to dinner or to the doctor.  It also is polite to call ahead and ask the business or office if it’s okay if you record video.  My hairstylist appreciated being asked ahead of time.
  2. BRING HELP:  When I made the appointment for the haircut, I knew I’d be recording video and taking photos, so I made sure to bring my husband.  I’d be too busy to help the stylist.
  3. WHAT TO RECORD: Take still pictures and videos of the entrance to the building.  If it’s an office, like a dentist, take photographs and video of your child in the waiting room, playing with the toys if there are any, and a sitting in a chair.  During the visit, take tons of video and photos.  Even if your child isn’t cooperative, keep recording, you’ll edit those portions out.  The day I recorded Barclay’s haircut video was pretty challenging. But I had enough footage recorded, I could piece together what looked like a successful visit.
  4. HAVE A REINFORCER SELECTED AHEAD OF TIME:  This is probably THE MOST IMPORTANT thing.  At the salon where Barclay gets his hair cut, the reinforcer is built-in.  They have lollipops, and he loves them.  I have resisted the urge so many times to get lollipops as a reinforcer for other things because they work SO well at the salon.  I made sure to get a lot of footage of him enjoying that lollipop.  So maybe your reinforcer is the goodie box at the dentist or the cookie at the grocery store.  It needs to be something consistent and not over-used, so it’s highly motivating to them.  You may have to bring the reinforcer with you, such as a highly motivating snack or toy.
  5. EDITING YOUR VIDEO:  You’ll upload all your footage to your editing program.  Try to keep it chronological.  Use videos and photos to tell the story.  Edit out portions of the video where your child is in distress or non-compliant.  I also think it is essential for you to do a voice-over.  Your voice is calming to your child.  Talk to them through the event.  Compliment them often.  Use happy background music.  I made a YouTube channel to upload all of Barclay’s social stories.  It’s free and super easy to do.
  6. WHEN TO USE THE VIDEO:  I suggest only using the video the day of the event or appointment.  If you show it to them days in advance, they may want the reinforcer.  I found that out with my son!  I showed him the Haircut Social Story video on a day he wasn’t getting a haircut, and he wanted a lollipop badly!  So limit viewing for the day-of. Show it before, on the way there, while waiting, during, and again after.

I hope this was helpful to you!  If you have any questions, please reach out to me!

Click here to see my social story, “Barclay Gets a Haircut.”

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Amy Nielsen lives in Orlando, Florida. She is the proud mother of four children ranging in age from 5-33! She and her husband, Brent enjoy sports and traveling. Amy is a former teacher with nearly 20 years of experience, a freelance writer, and a special needs advocate. Her mission is to help educate and empower families of children with disabilities to focus on their child's interests and strengths.

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