What Does Your Child’s Narrative Tell Us? Narratives from Students with Autism

Children who are able to understand and talk about their past experiences are better suited to deal with future experiences. Some researchers have shown that narrative structure is more important than narrative content in predicting child success and behavior. That is, how the story is told and the co-constructing that happens during the telling (the narrative building) is important – more important than what the narrative is about.
All researchers agree, however, that children’s narrative skills are important in understanding teachers’ expectations, understanding classroom activities, in moving from oral to written understanding, and in reading comprehension.
Children with autism have, in some studies, performed significantly better on tasks of story retelling than on tasks of formulating personal narratives. Children with autism have shown the need for significantly more prompts to initiate and continue personal narratives, and often fail in their attempts even with scaffolding. Ability to understand and express emotions and to interpret facial, gestural, and postural cues has significant impact on the narrative skills of students with autism.

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What are some things you can do?
1. Develop the vocabulary needed to talk about emotional experiences. The student needs sufficient vocabulary available to him to be able to talk about emotions; working from basic to more complex. Labeling and talking about his feelings is a precursor to talking about others’ feelings and about characters’ feelings.
2. Use situational information to help the student determine how others are feeling. Students need to be able to understand how others are feeling, and contextual experiences can help them with practicing this. Teach the student what someone is feeling and why, based on the context. Not only are video clips useful (and video moiling is being used a lot now), but the old stand-by t.v. shows are also useful. Many therapists and teachers also use Social Stories and comic strips. The visual of the t.v. story is often easier than using a storybook.
3. Develop a set of visual templates that provide a structure for the narrative. Give each narrative component a visual cues that the student can refer to while constructing his narrative
4. Provide both contextual intervention (during the course of the day as the opportunity naturally arises) as well as skill based intervention, where a situation from the student’s day is used to practice target skills. Provide stories that are short but illustrate a specific story element that the student can identify and discuss. Attach the stories to something familiar to the child.
5. Use visuals, visuals, and more visuals. Story maps, sequence symbols, any type of visual cues to illustrate what is needed or provide a memory prompt.
6. Move from simple close formats in sentences and stories to more complex formulation tasks, using whatever the student needs to provide structure. Provide models of well-structured narratives and then walk the student through their production step by step. Write down separately each piece of information the child produces, then work with him to order them to tell the story.

Keep on talking about what happens each day!

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About Susan Berkowitz
I have been a SLP for more than 35 years, working predominantly with nonverbal children, children with autism, but also with children with significant language disabilities. I own a private practice where I primarily perform AAC evaluations and do consultation, staff training, workshops. I also own Language Learning Apps, LLC, and sell curriculum materials on TPT