We need to help our students learn to use the powerful tools available to them to regulate their emotions, calm their bodies, solve their problems, and face their fears. We also need to teach them how to recognize when they need a tool and how to ask for adult help in accessing their tools. Students need to become their own self-advocates, knowing what tools work best for them, when they need it, and how to access that tool. Sometimes we may teach a student a calming strategy, but then in the business of real life forget to provide a visual way to ask for that tool. Video Stories are an effective way of helping students become familiar with asking for and using their calming strategies or problem solving strategies. When they see themselves successfully using the strategy in the video, it not only validates the benefits of the strategy, but also internalizes the strategy into a visual memory that they can pull up to help them remember in the heat of the moment.
With my son Solomon, I wanted to help him learn a few calming strategies that he could use when he felt sad or frustrated. I incorporated a cartoon character that he really likes to make it more fun and enticing (Lightning McQueen from the Cars movie) and wrote a simple social story about how Lightning McQueen needs help finding the right tool to help him feel better when it’s lightning outside or too loud in the stadium. I used PowerPoint to easily format the story and insert pictures of Lightning McQueen. I also thought of some tools that my son could really use – hugging his alligator pillow, asking for a real hug, asking for help, and making a new plan. I put them in a box labeled with a toolbox symbol.
In this video, you’ll see Solomon choosing and demonstrating tools to help Lightning McQueen when he’s feeling frustrated and sad. You’ll also notice that Solomon has a severe language delay so we are working on developing language throughout the Video Story as well. (For more on language development, visit the Language portion of the site and watch the Airplane Video Story example.)
The process of creating the Video Story was effective at teaching him the strategies immediately. Later that same day, when he was frustrated because his train wouldn’t stay on the track, he independently went and got the “New Plan” visual and brought it to me. Also that weekend his dad was out of town. Solomon was missing him terribly and started to cry. I said, “How do you feel?” He said, “sad.” And that reminded him of his Video Story. He ran to his toolbox, and pulled out the alligator pillow visual. I gave him the alligator pillow, which he hugged for a few minutes. I asked, “Did that help you, sweetheart?” He made a face that meant “Not very much,” and returned to the toolbox. Then he brought me the picture of a real hug. As we held each other, he was comforted and felt better. He had learned to recognize and name his emotion, as well as ask for and implement his own calming strategies.
With girls who are not interested in tools, you may want to change the framework of the idea to something they enjoy like magic fairy dust. I collaborated on this project with a dear friend, Marci Godbee, who is a Play Project Therapist through Spectrum Services. She is a strong promoter of helping kids become their own self-advocates by providing them with simple ways of independently accessing their tools and teaching them when and how to use their tools with expertise and fluency. There may be many different tools, depending on the student and the intended purpose, for example a student may have visual reminders of their favorite methods of sensory integration, or they may have visual reminders of ways to overcome an assignment they feel overwhelmed by, such as chunking it into portions, taking a break, asking for help, etc.