The third, and final, rule in our theatre workshops is “Always Be Respectful.” Being respectful onstage is important for the show to be able to go on. However, respect can be a challenging concept for children with special needs. Respect for others, for property, for time, and for so many different things is important for children with disabilities to grasp and practice. We focus on encouraging this life skill through example and fun in our theatre workshops. Let’s use what we have learned in inclusive theatre workshops to think about how to create a social story about respect: What does respect mean? Why is it important? Why is it worth practicing?
What Does Respect Mean?
In workshops, we have an intro circle at the top of every hour asking students for examples of what our three rules mean (see a full list of our first ten minutes of class here). We have had examples like, raise your hand, use nice words, or take turns. Throughout class we observe what elements of “Always Be Respectful“ students find challenging and adapt lessons and encouragement. As instructors it is important for us to be aware of what respect means in the context of who our students are and, from there, develop how we can encourage it. Start creating your social story by doing some research on the child or group you are working with to best know how to reinforce a specific element of what respect is in their social story. Here is what we’ve learned:
What Respect Is & How to Reinforce It
- Treat others how you want to be treated—Be an Example! Set easy goals about the types of words to use or went to clap for someone.
- Active listening— Allow opportunities to ask key questions about what another person shared. Accustom them to engaging with others stories by helping them find what they have in common.
- Hands to yourself— Provide fidget toys or other items that will distract wandering hands and attention (here’s a longer list). Always set them up to succeed, moving them away from potential challenging areas/people.
- Following directions with a good attitude— give all directions in an easy to understand, two or three step process. Stick to a routine that they can get used to and be clear about what will happen now and what will happen next.
Writing a Social Story
Once a child begins to understand what respect is, the next job a parent or teacher has is to begin to show them why it is important. This is a learning experience that all people of all abilities continue growing in throughout life. While children with special needs may have a different way of absorbing this lesson, they are often as capable of understanding the necessity of respect as their typical developing peers. A social story can help bridge this gap of understanding.
Why Practice Respect?
Children of all abilities-but especially children with special needs-need to be able to connect to the benefit of practicing a certain behavior. In other words, they need to see what’s in it for them; what good feeling, reward, or other desired effect will practicing respect bring them? Creating positive reinforcements around desired behavior is a proven way to reinforce positive reactions to people and situations for children with special needs. Here is what we have learned that can be shared in a social story about respect:
- Being respectful helps us make and keep Friends
- Being respectful keeps us Safe
- Being respectful keeps us Happy
- Being respectful lets everyone have Fun
Here are some great social stories!