If you are autistic, navigating the complexities of social interactions can be confusing, contradictory, and require lots of energy. Joe McCann captures this complexity with "The unwritten rules..."
Some unwritten rules are deliberately secret - they have to be probed - they're mini shibboleths. They can change without notice, warning, or even any real reason. Something is being negotiated. Not meaning to be sexist, but this method of bullying is more popular with women than men - when they say "you're meant to know!!" You, in fact, are not meant to know. Probably the version men do is worse, they don't even bother with the "you're meant to know!!" They do long uncomfortable silences... And that look ..slightly wide eyed and blank... But just enough of something to see, there's something up. The Faux Faux Pas. You're constantly on your toes.
Joe McCann commenting in the Guardian
Navigating with a social story
Social stories were developed by Gray & Garand  in the early 90's as a means of helping autistic children. A social story is a way of explaining a social situation in a way an autistic person can understand.
They contain four elements,
A social story is written by the adults supporting the child. The most effective ones take into account the child's preferences and communication style. If the child has an interest in a particular TV show, then the themes, ways of talking, and characters can be incorporated into the social story.
Although social stories are used extensively they are not a panacea. When Reynhout & Carter  researched social stories, they found that not one of the social stories they studied could be classified as a complete social story. However they were found to be very effective around 50% of the time, and somewhat effective the rest of the time.
Counselling social stories
In my previous career, I used social stories with a good degree of success, so when I started counselling autistic adolescents and later adults, I adapted a social story approach to use in these settings. A counselling social story is made up from these elements,
The way I use this in the counselling room, is as a checklist. It helps me to identify areas to focus on. If there is some confusion over what people are feeling then we will spend more time with that. If you are unsure at what you want to happen, then we will focus more on this part. From your perspective it feels like a conversation. Social stories only help guide what the conversation covers.
The other important part of a social story is trying it out. I like to think of it as an experiment. We look at the data, and then draw a hypothesis about what might be happening. From this we devise an experiment to test the hypothesis. This is the 'how to get there part'. In the experiment you try out the 'how to get there', and then look at the results.
There are two other elements which can be useful,
A social story approach is a useful way of looking at problems in social settings. It's best used for discrete well defined problems.
For me personally I really like the depth that this way of working entails. How it allows me, and the person I am with, to focus in a very detailed way on a particular aspect of their lives. I also really enjoy the creativity that it requires. It is always a very creative way of working together.
photo by StockSnap via Pixabay.com
 Gray & Garand (1993) Social Stories via carolgraysocialstories.com
 Reynhout & Carter (2009) The use of social stories by teachers via Science Direct
 Gavin Cosgrove Social Stories via Educate Autism
Are you looking for help?
I am an experienced therapist in private practice in the Southampton area of England, UK. I see people from all walks of life, dealing with all sorts of problems.