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New or unfamiliar experiences can be daunting for anyone. This is exceptionally true for a child with autism, who has difficulty predicting what could happen next and generalising knowledge and experiences.

Going to a new place can therefore be scary and provoke a lot of anxiety. This is why preparing in advance as much as possible is extremely important and can really help a child to understand where they are going and what they will be going to do. Preparing for new experiences can take the form of:

  • Looking at photos (i.e. looking at photos of a park before visiting the park)
  • Looking at and reading books with pictures of the place or experience/ Social Story (i.e. looking at or reading a picture book about the zoo before going to the zoo)
  • Watching videos of the place or experience (i.e. watching a video of a supermarket before going to the supermarket)
  • Touching or using objects related to the experience or place (i.e. using a toy stethoscope before going to the doctor)

With access to the internet or a camera, it can be easy to create a very personalised photo story to show pictures and give a timeline of events to aid a child’s understanding of a new event or experience. These can then be looked at on the computer (or other devise) or printed out to make a book.

Teachers: photo stories can be made specifically for an individual pupil or directed towards the whole class or group and viewed on the interactive whiteboard.

Parents: photo stories can be looked at anywhere! They can even be taken when going to the experience or place and referred to as the event is happening to show what will be coming next.

personalised photo story Personalised photo social story going on an aeroplane airplane autism
Personalised photo social story going on an aeroplane airplane autism

Download a FREE 12-page editable photo Social Story about going on an aeroplane!

The photos and text in the story should be changed to suit individual needs. Use specific photos to make the message very clear. For example, if you are going to Gatwick airport in London, then use a photo of Gatwick airport and not another airport!

This could also be used as an example for writing your own photo story to support introducing an upcoming event or situation.

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Steph Reed

Hi I’m Steph Reed, an Autism Specialist Teacher and Consultant. Following 10 years of teaching many incredible autistic young people with complex needs, I developed and led a School Autism Outreach Service, and have also been part of a senior leadership team as SENCo and Inclusion Leader. I now provide outreach, training and consultancy with practical support to schools, services and families using personalised, child-centered and evidence-based approaches. I also have personal experience of learning ‘differently’ and with success! I am here to support you in feeling confident and skilled in meeting diverse needs and ensuring children are reaching their potential.

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