As Eli becomes older and more aware of himself he has been getting more reticent around strangers. His speech is emerging, to our great delight, but he isn’t confident enough to speak with most other people outside the family or his speech therapists. I remember how he used to work his extreme cuteness as a 5 month old for all the attention he could in the checkout line at the grocery.
I wondered at the time how two introverts (me a bit more extremely so than my husband) could have given birth to such an extrovert. Now he’s either showing himself not to have fallen that far from the family tree, or this is just another developmental phase. Time will tell, and in the end Eli will be Eli. Introvert or extrovert, it’ll be just fine by us.
In the meantime, Eli has been growing increasingly uncomfortable with playing outdoors within our immediate neighborhood. He is fine as soon as we are away from the home and in a public place. I think the difference is that on our sidewalk our friendly neighbors will stop to greet him. Somedays he will go out but becomes nervous when other people walk by. Other days he refuses to play outside at all unless I take him away from our neighborhood. While I don’t mind if he is by nature going to be a more introverted individual, I don’t like seeing him experiencing such anxiety to the point where it is hindering him from enjoying one of his greatest joys in life.
To help him gain greater level of comfort with playing in our neighborhood I’m making a couple of social stories for him.
Social stories are short stories targeted very specifically to a social skill an individual is struggling with. A quick Google search will provide an abundance of information as well as sites offering free social stories with generic illustrations for a variety of life skills. While social stories were developed as a tool to help individuals with Autism learn specific social skills, it seems to me they are a powerful tool to help any child with an area in which they are struggling. It is my hope that these stories I’m creating for Eli will normalize something that he is currently finding threatening.
Here are the pictures and text from the first one I made just to get him thinking about all the things he so enjoys doing when we are outside. These stories are supposed to be short and this one may be a bit too long. And because it doesn’t really address any sort of social skill perhaps it can’t really be called a “social story” at all. Whether it fits the definition or not I think it’ll help.
Eli Plays Outside
The second social story I’m going to make for him I won’t post here because it will contain photos of the neighbors who might not appreciate me posting their pictures online. The text will go more or less as follows:
Our neighbors live in the houses around us.
We see them walking on the sidewalk.
They go to their garages. Then they drive away.
When they come home again, they walk from the parking lot to their houses.
Our neighbors are friendly. Sometimes they stop to say “hi!”
We live in a nice neighborhood.
The photos will obviously be of neighbors walking back and forth on the sidewalk, or in the parking lot. I spoke with one family about a picture of them waving hello. The others I’ll most likely just take on the sly from the front door as opportunities present themselves. Again, perhaps not quite a social story as it doesn’t deal with teaching him how to respond appropriately. He’s only 2 and if he doesn’t want to talk to people he doesn’t know I’m ok with that. Pressuring him to do so will only raise the anxiety level, the exact opposite of what will encourage him continue practicing to speak. Right now I just want him to get comfortable with seeing the neighbors when he is outside.
When Eli first began going to the group therapy program he had great difficulty sitting with the other children for circle time. They made a social story for him there called Eli Sits in Circle Time with photos they took of him during a few of his more successful moments. He loved it and wanted to read and reread it. He also began to do much better during circle time after we started reading his book together.
I hope these new stories help him navigate this current bumpy spot in the road he is experiencing. If nothing else I think he will enjoy having another book with himself as the main character!