Bible Stories and Social Stories
Challenges of Children with Special Needs
For a certain population of youngsters, proper social interaction is all but impossible. Due to certain disabilities, some individuals might spend most of their lives unable to empathize with others, unable to read people or situations, unable to get out of their own heads enough to understand the society in which they live.
For parents and teachers, these children present a heartbreaking dilemma. Besides their obvious areas of need, they are otherwise very talented and loveable people. But having to go day to day seeing the child tormented by peers without recognizing it, or sometimes even hurting peers without realizing it, the question arises: is there any way to help this child navigate the complex world of social interaction without crashing and burning at every turn?
In recent years, a very simple solution has arisen. This solution is called ‘Social Stories ™.’ What most of these individuals lack in being able to read people, they make up in being able to… well… read. Recognizing this, an educator named Carol Gray simply created fun tales or comics that the child could study, wherein characters encounter various social difficulties, and realize how to handle them. A story may have an anthropomorphic bear recognize what teasing is, and how to respond. Or a parrot that learns to stand in line. And so forth. With the child’s ability to read and recall, they are able to access the information presented in the Social Story and apply it to future situations they themselves may encounter.
Much like the morality tales of bygone years, these are stories with a point. They are meant to provide a reference for future behavior. But these are much more structured and well-thought-out than a Saturday morning cartoon with “the lesson we learned” tagged on to the end.
Social Stories are often personalized for the child, and follow ten specific steps. These include the following:
- Provide descriptive information which is meaningful to the reader.
- Recognize the needs of the specific reader, and praise the proper choices made within the story.
- A proper introduction, body and conclusion
- Taylor the story to the specific reader’s needs and understanding
- Narrated in a supportive voice that is consistent in the perspective, tense, tone, accuracy and meaning
- Address the six ‘W’s: where, why, when, how, what and who
- Sentences that describe the situation and coach the reader
- Instead of directions, it offers descriptions
- Story is edited over time to improve its effectiveness and impact
- Careful planning and introduction of material to audience
Carol Gray Explains Social Stories
The Bible as Social Stories
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)
As any Sunday School teacher will tell you, you don’t take youngsters directly to the Epistles of Paul or the book of Ecclesiastes when you are teaching them the Bible. Children spend a great deal of time in the Old Testament, the Gospels or the book of Acts when learning the faith at an early age. Why? Because these are descriptive stories told in a descriptive narrative voice, provide the ‘five W’s’, describe rather than direct, and praise the proper actions of the characters while condemning the poor choices. Sadly, though, most Sunday School teachers try to tack a simple ‘Aesop’s Fables’ lesson at the end of each story, without examining it in a larger context. Noah’s Ark is more than just a fun tale about animals and a rainbow. Adam and Eve is not about showcasing a talking snake. David and Goliath isn’t just a story about the triumph of an underdog. These passages work because they tell stories, and these stories make sense in the larger context in which they are placed.
It is self-evident than human beings are somewhat deficient when it comes to knowing how to interact with God’s nature, and with one another in a way that conforms to God’s direction and design. It is telling that the majority of the Bible consists of stories about people and their actions toward God and with one another.
Why is so much of the Bible narrative rather than philosophical and theological? The “Social Story” model might shed some light upon the purpose of so much of the Bible and the stories within. Frequently reviewing these stories can eventually begin to affect the behavior of the reader, so that the interactions one has in prayer and toward one another might be entirely informed by the stories and models that Scripture reveals. It's worth noting in the 2nd Timothy passage quoted above that the last virtue of scripture listed is "training in righteousness."
It is especially telling that all of the ten steps that Carol Gray required for her Social Stories are represented at points within Bible Stories.