In the special education community we talk a lot about "unwritten rules." These are the social expectations that we intuitively "know" without really having to think about it. For example:
Everyone faces the door when you are in an elevator.
If there are empty seats on a plane (hey Southwest!) or in a classroom, you leave a seat between you and the next person.
If you pass someone while walking, you give them a soft smile and a slight raise of your head-- you don't have to explicitly greet everyone you see.
If someone has their headphones in when they're out in public, it means "Don't talk to me."
Think back: Did anyone ever explicitly teach you these things? In all likelihood the answer is no. You picked up on them either by 1) watching how the world works or 2) you "broke" an unwritten social rule and the awkwardness that ensued was so palpable you never did it again.
We have some kids, however, who don't simply "pick up" these rules. For some students (particularly those with autism or who are otherwise neurodiverse) they need to be taught these "secret" expectations and how they are supposed to respond.
For this task, I suggest using a Social Story.
A social story (concept created, copyrighted, and trademarked by Carol Gray) is a written narrative of appropriate social skills for a particular situation-- they tell the story of how a person would navigate a particular challenge in a successful way.
Here's a short example of a social story about washing your hands:
At school, everyone is required to wash their hands. Washing our hands gets rid of germs and bacteria that can make us sick. Washing my hands keeps me and others healthy. When I wash my hands, it makes others feel safe and comfortable. If I don't wash my hands, other people might think I am dirty and might not want to play with me. I will wash my hands in the cafeteria before lunch and after I go to the bathroom. I will always wash my hands when I'm asked.
Short stories like this provide students with several supports. First, they give a student context for where and when this behavior is to be performed. The story describes the social situation, the action required, and why (in the story above-- in the cafeteria/bathroom; hand washing; to stay healthy). Next, it gives perspective for how other people view this action (it makes people feel comfortable; it prevents social isolation). Lastly, it provides direction (I will wash my hands in two different settings; I will wash my hands when asked).
Instead of assuming that the student knows how to respond, we explicitly teach what we want from them in a given situation, and ideally, we review it every day until it becomes a habit.
Here are some great FREE examples of social stories that cover common social challenges for students:
Carol Gray Social Stories Sampler
PBIS World Social Stories List
How to Write a Social Story
A social story can be written for literally any social situation that your student struggles with. In addition to the free resources above, Carol Gray has some books that you can buy with even more examples and samples of common social stories.
I encourage you to try it out and let us know how it goes! Has your student benefited from the use of social stories? Share about it with us on the IEP Guru Facebook page!