When a child has a broken bone or another injury, getting an X-ray and a cast can be scary and cause uncertainty. A trip to the clinic brings fear of the unknown with new faces, sights and sounds. All of this can cause sensory overload – which is especially stressful and overwhelming for kids on the autism spectrum.

This is why TRIA has developed tools to make the unknown a little more familiar for the families we care for.

What are social stories?

These tools are called social stories. They help people on the autism spectrum prepare for new experiences. For families with children on the autism spectrum, they are a familiar and helpful part of everyday life.

“I didn’t know anything about social stories until I had to,” says Alyssa Bates, an administrative assistant at TRIA and one of the people who helped develop social stories at TRIA. “But with a child on the autism spectrum, I now know how important and powerful they are.”

New experiences can be overwhelming. This is especially true for unfamiliar places with new noises, people, sights and behaviors. It can be difficult for a person with autism, especially a child, to cope with these situations and to know how to respond.

A social story generally goes through the situation in a story format. It always uses first-person language, so that the child can read it as if it’s their own experience.

“We use these at home all the time,” Alyssa says. “They help us prepare for everything from an appointment at the dentist to an outing to the Renaissance Festival.”

Social stories

TRIA is dedicated to making TRIA’s orthopedic care as kid friendly as possible. When the TRIA team heard about social stories, we knew we wanted to create this tool to make a visit to TRIA a more positive experience for everyone.

Heather Bergeson, MD, is a sports medicine physician, pediatrician and one of the driving forces behind our efforts to provide tools to help reduce fear when kids visit the clinic. “Our mission is to be the go-to place for pediatric orthopedic care in the Twin Cities,” Dr. Bergeson says. “That means providing as many tools as possible to help children and families have a positive experience.”

The TRIA team got to work creating a booklet form of the social story. Before long, they realized it would be even better if they could create a video to go along with it.

How does a video help?

Many of a child’s anxieties come from not having a visual to imagine what a new experience will be like. With a social story video, kids can see what the clinic looks like and hear the sounds of the machines, such as the loud saw used to remove a cast. They can then mimic what they have seen in the video when they aren’t sure how to respond to the new situation.

The video itself is about four minutes long. It highlights sensory input children might experience and provides examples of things kids can do during the lull times. It also has lots of reassuring language to guide viewers through each step. The goal is for children to watch the video either before coming into the clinic or while sitting in the waiting room.

These videos are beneficial tools for anyone with concerns regarding their appointment, not only children who are on the autism spectrum. Anyone who is feeling anxious about a new experience can benefit from a reassuring video.

“A visit to the clinic can be a scary situation for any kid,” Dr. Bergeson says. “We are proud to be able to provide this resource to everyone, whether or not a child has autism.”

We’re already seeing positive results from this story-focused approach to a clinic visit. Parents and children enjoy having the video, as well as the booklet, as an option for a waiting room activity.

“I can’t think of a better way to say we welcome everyone, and we want everyone to have a good experience here,” Alyssa says.

We couldn’t agree more, and we are looking forward to providing this resource to even more families in the future.