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Social Stories, What Works?

Article: "A Systematic Review of Effects of Social Stories Interventions for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder." By Qi and others, in Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 33, 1.

I recall the times when, in my graduate training, my professors reminded me that the guesses psychologists made about whether or not an interventions was successful was about as good as chance. The problem, they said, is not that psychologists make guesses like everyone else, but that we think our guesses are so much more accurate than they actually are. This was an argument for Empirically Supported Techniques (ESTs). I think my professors were tired of being referred to as pseudo-scientists and were looking to be taken seriously in the scientific and healthcare fields.

This is all background to explain why we seem to keep asking the question, "Does this intervention work?" Social Stories have been one of the top interventions for teaching social skills to individuals with ASD, but not because scientists have proven that it works. Whether or not it works has largely been guess-work up to this point.

The current study confirms a couple of things. First, it is hard to get psychologists and other mental health professionals to agree on criteria for "what works." The truth is, there are multiple definitions of what works, all of them with some level of validity. This study applied one or two of those definitions to determine the second confirmation: Social Stories works, sort of. The results of this study were by no means a home run. If Social Stories proved itself to be an amazing, prescient intervention it would have blown the lid off of those scientists' stuffy definitions of "effective" and "causative," but it did not. Instead, it operated like most interventions you are going to find-it had modest effects and proved that it is unlikely to be a snake-oil treatment. Social Stories maintains its status, in my book, as a useful tool to be used by a trained clinician for the purpose of enhancing social functioning in individuals with an ASD diagnosis.

Not the signs and wonders we all secretly wish for, but good science. I would certainly prefer to be a colleague than a messiah any day, for what it is worth.

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