This guest post is written by Jenna Gensic. Jenna is the mom of a former client of mine for whom I recommended social stories to assist with transitions, learning activities and feeding. Sometimes, and this was the case here, it is a double edged sword to recommend something you KNOW will work for a child/family but that will ADD stress and time spent on "therapy." I was so glad when Jenna sent me a message this week stating that she had found an app that was alleviating some of the stress for them and I promptly asked her to write a guest post to share her new "treasure" with others. ~Jennifer
If my son’s life were a blog post, these would be a few of the tags: Micropreemie. Trach. Ventilator. NG tube. G-tube. Surgeries. Retinopathy of Prematurity. Ataxia. Cerebral Palsy. Autism? Sensory Processing Disorder. Oral Aversion. Feeding Disorder.
Over the last three years, my husband and I have discovered the power of social stories to manage Mikan’s behavioral problems associated with his complex medical history. Although Mikan hasn’t yet officially been diagnosed with Autism, his therapists and doctors have repeatedly discussed the possibility of this label. Regardless of the official determination, Mikan has responded well to social stories, an approach typically used with children on The Spectrum.
For over a year now, we have created stories with text and pictures both by hand and on the computer that introduce Mikan to specific social practices. A few of these included how to act at the dinner table, how to greet someone we know, how to share toys, and how to interact with different foods. Mikan loved reading about himself and looking at the pictures. Previewing behavior expectations and schedule changes reduced his anxiety and eased transitions.
While we were pleased with this intervention, like any other therapeutic strategy, it demanded extra time to be effectively implemented. I kept a special notebook for stories I needed to develop quickly. I used PowerPoint when I had more time. I was proud of my slide transitions, text animations, and integration of family pictures with clip art. I would call Mikan to the computer regularly to “read” the stories with me. He has a precocious ability to read and welcomed this routine.
But sometime in his third year, each passing month brought a new behavioral quirk that needed addressing. His therapists and doctors’ answer? Make a social story. So I made one. And another. And another. But I found myself using my trusty notebook more than the computer. It was simply quicker. I knew it wasn’t as effective, so I returned to the computer whenever I could find time. As the months passed, I burnt out. It took me about forty minutes to create each presentation. I was tired of making them. Realizing this would be a long-term intervention, I sought help.
We had purchased an iPad shortly after Mikan turned two to test some voice augmentation apps (He was still nonverbal.). We were fascinated by his progress. He quickly learned to navigate different apps and browse YouTube for educational videos. I wanted to harness his iPad interest and channel it into a social stories app. For months I conducted App Store searches, browsed lists of “Autism apps” distributed by his developmental pediatrician, and followed up on referrals from friends and health professionals.
I found many apps with stock stories such as Routines and Going Places. These apps contain pre-made stories with audio, text, and pictures that discuss a specific routine such as getting ready for school, going to the grocery store, or visiting the doctor. These are nice because they require zero effort. But I still sought an affordable app that advertised customizable stories. I wanted to make stories to address Mikan’s specific needs. I knew I wasn’t going to find any pre-made story about drinking from different kinds of cups when the special blue Rubbermaid cup is in the dishwasher.
But last week I found my Holy Grail: My Stories. This app is affordable ($2.99) and efficient. In less than five minutes, I can create a custom story with text, pictures, and audio that is available for my son to view whenever he wants, not just on my prescriptive times. Mikan loves turning the pages and tapping the pictures, and soon he will be able to record his own audio. In the past week, he has already reviewed the stories more than we have together at our computer over the last two months. And I’m not tired! I enjoy creating these stories because I know they will be effective and my efforts will not swallow up the limited free time I have every few days.
However, this is still a relatively new app. The current version only allows you to create nine social stories, but the developer plans on expanding this capability in future updates and seems committed to regular improvements. I’ve also encountered a few bugs that unexpectedly deleted a few of my stories. Hopefully these will also be addressed in future updates. Although, honestly, the bug only mildly irritated me since it was so easy to recreate my work.
My Stories has jumpstarted my commitment to this therapeutic approach with the level of intensity it demands. I’m excited to share it with other weary parents and caregivers. While I’m pleased these social stories will help mainstream my son and lessen my compulsion to explain his behaviors in public, I am more excited that they will support his comfortable growth in the world around him, increase his quality of life, and help him live out his human potential.