An interested blogger asked the following question and I think it is a great one, so I thought I would respond, and hopefully this will help her, and others:
Educational professionals often teach social skills using social stories in one:one situations, not realizing that these skills do not generalize to the playground, the classroom, the community, etc. Where is there additional research to validate this position?
It is true that educational professionals often use social stories and that the skills do not always generalize to natural settings. This is actually true about many treatment approaches. If generalization is not planned, it is likely that it will NOT happen! This what we call the train and hope approach and it is pretty common to see that with social stories. However, if used appropriately and well-planned, this approach can be effective, although it is not clear in the research how effective.
Most studies I have read have shown that social stories are pretty effective for teaching specific concepts to children such as language, social skills, play, vocational, and self-help skills. The majority of these studies show that the approach is effective, but they also tend to use the social stories in conjunction with other approaches (e.g. modeling, rehearsal, feedback, etc.). I have not seen many studies that solely look at social stories and those that do tend to show that some children are successful, while others may not be.
The biggest issue with the social stories research is that data on maintenance and generalization are not always reported and when they are, they tend to have modest or no maintenance and generalization.
In clinical practice, I have seen social stories work, but again, they are typically used in conjunction with other practices and generalization of the skills is specifically planned out.
Although there are a large number of studies on this approach, I have not been able to identify a randomized efficacy study or even a study using more than 3-4 children. If anyone knows of a study like this, please let me know and I will post it here!
In sum, I would suggest that if social stories are used that the facilitators do the following 3 things to maximize their success:
1) Make them motivating! You can do this by doing the social stories in PowerPoint or similar programs on the computer and adding in sound, music, etc. to keep it interesting for the child. You can also incorporate things that the child likes into the social story to get them interested in it. I once worked with a boy who loved music, particularly The Beatles. He had some difficulties with his peers during lunchtime, so we opted to try social stories. Initially, he hated them, but read them anyway and could answer all of the questions we asked him about the stories. But alas, he did not generalize at all to the actual lunch time experience. Next, we made a PowerPoint slide and incorporated The Beatles music and even some cartoon pictures of the band from their old cartoon. He found this very amusing and was very attentive. He did not generalize this initially, but he started to tell his friends about the story. So, we decided to have the boy sit down at the computer and show the slides to his classmates one at a time and then talk about the social story. That seemed to work, not sure which part, but it did work, and the behavior was maintained for the rest of the school year.
2) Track Progress! Often, social stories are just used without any data tracking system. It is important to figure out what you are trying to change and to objectively measure it. It is the only way you will know if it works.
3) Plan for Generalization! Don’t just wait for it to happen, figure out what your next steps will be to generalize the behavior. Will you add more social stories? Will you add more environments and situations? Will you change the words or pictures to the stories? Will you do the stories with different people?