Improving Assessment Practices for Students Who Use AAC: Mobilizing the Power of Social Narratives

January 6, 2022 by - Leave your thoughts

Improving Assessment Practices for Students Who Use AAC: Mobilizing the Power of Social Narratives
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Social narratives are an empirically supported intervention that can be helpful in supporting people with AAC needs. They are commonly used to help individuals with autism understand and deal with challenging situations such as fire drills, birthday parties, and trips to the dentist. All types of social narratives can be written in text alone or include pictures and illustrations. 

Social Stories are a particular kind of social narrative that have a specific set of guidelines for their development and use. The originator of Social Stories, Carol Gray, defines Social Stories this way:

“A Social Story accurately describes a context, skill, achievement, or concept according to 10 defining criteria. These criteria guide Story research, development, and implementation to ensure an overall patient and supportive quality, and a format, ‘voice’, content, and learning experience that is descriptive, meaningful, respectful, and physically, socially, and emotionally safe for the Story audience (a child, adolescent, or adult).” (Gray, 1991)

She has a website with detailed information that will be useful to anyone seeking to use this type of social narrative. 

Social narratives are often used to influence behavior in social contexts (e.g., Touching People’s Hair, My Body is My Own, Taking Turns with Friends) and can help in developing new ways of responding to stressful situations (e.g., My Calming Strategies, Look for the Helpers, My Grandpa Died). The focus is on building a deeper understanding of complex, difficult, and nuanced situations in order to reduce anxiety and promote well-being. This post provides more detailed information on their development and use.  

While there are many social narratives posted online, the best ones are not generic but rather tailored specifically to meet the needs of an individual person or situation. 

In the series on AAC Fair Testing Practices, we discussed the strategy of using social narratives to prepare AAC users for upcoming assessments in this post. Today, we’ll expand that discussion.

“Why use social narratives prior to assessment?”

Most people experience some degree of anxiety when they are being evaluated. This is heightened in many people with complex communication needs, sometimes preventing them from demonstrating what they know. Social narratives can be a respectful and effective means of providing support. 

“What should the social narrative include?”

To some extent, that depends on the person you are writing it for and the specifics of what they struggle with. 

  • Jessa has difficulty adjusting to changes in the routine, so her social narrative would focus on what will happen in the assessment situation in order to help her prepare herself mentally and emotionally. 
  • Xavier experiences a lot of anxiety when he feels judged or the need to perform at his best. For him, the social narrative would provide information to alleviate those concerns, with lots of reassurance and specifics on the supports he can call on to manage his stress.
  • Shameka hasn’t had much prior experience taking formal tests, and those she did have were less than successful. Her social narrative would focus on the specific test-taking skills she is learning to develop, such as listening to directions, pointing to pictures, and answering questions.

Examples of Assessment-focused Social Narratives

In my class, Ms. Martinez gives tests and quizzes so that she can see what we have learned. She tells us on Monday if we are going to have a test or quiz that week. When it is time for a test, she usually passes out papers and puts them on our desks in a special way. The print on the paper faces down and the blank side faces up. When Ms. Martinez has given one to every student, she tells us it is time to begin. Then we can turn over our papers. We usually start by writing our names at the top and then we read the directions. We try to answer all of the questions and follow the directions. If we have questions, we can raise our hands and wait until she comes to our desk. Then we can quietly ask our questions. It is okay if we don’t know all of the answers. We try to do our best so that Ms. Martinez can see what we are learning.” 

“I have speech with Mr. Joseph. We play games and do lots of fun things. Sometime soon, I will go to Mr. Joseph’s room to do something different. When I get there, he will probably have a schedule. It might look a lot like the schedules we use when I go for speech. I will try to do everything on the schedule. It will have things like pointing to pictures, talking, and answering questions. It’s okay if I don’t know the answer. I will not get in trouble and no one will be mad at me. I will try my best. If I need a break, I can tell Mr. Joseph. I can ask for help at any time. When I ask for help, Mr. Joseph will help me figure it out. When I finish everything on the schedule, it will probably be time to go back to class. Mr. Joseph will be really happy that I tried my best. Mrs. Santiago will probably be very proud of me. Mom and Dad will be proud of me, too.”

“Sometimes I have to take tests at school. These help my teachers understand what I know and what I need help with. It is okay if I don’t know all of the answers. There are special rules for taking tests and quizzes. We try to stay quiet so that everyone can concentrate and do their best work. We try not to look at anyone else’s work because everyone is supposed to do their own work. When we look at someone else’s work, people might think we are cheating even if we are not. We try to stay focused and complete the whole test. If we get distracted, my teachers might come over to my desk to remind me to finish my work. If I start to feel upset or overwhelmed, I can raise my hand and ask my teacher for help. We might do some 5 Finger Breathing together, get a squeeze ball or something else that helps us feel better. Then I will try to get back to work and finish the test.” 

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Have you tried using social narratives to support AAC users? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Need more information? You can find resources on social narratives here. Also, Carol Gray’s examples of social stories may also be helpful to some.

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This post was written by Carole Zangari

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