The poem below is in the form of a social story. Most of those living with autism will be familiar with this behaviour modification tool, first developed by Dr Carol Gray. Social stories are used with autistic (and other developmentally delayed) people to help them understand social situations and to illustrate appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. They are written in a very particular (and proscribed) kind of idiom, with the sentence structure kept as simple as possible to minimise potential for confusion. Reading a whole book of sample social stories can be hilarious: ‘When is the right time to talk about Thomas the Tank Engine’, anyone ?
However I often find myself wishing that instead of ‘using’ social stories on my child, I could ‘modify’ the ‘behaviour’ of certain other members of the public so my child could have the right to a happy and safe experience of public space. The following poem comes out of that place…
I love my dog.
My dog’s name is Hackles.
I love to go walking with Hackles. It makes both of us very happy.
Hackles’ favourite thing is to run around without her leash on.
I love to see how happy she is when she does this.
There are some places where dogs are not allowed to go.
There are some other places where dogs are allowed, but only on a leash.
You can tell if you are in one of those places because there are big signs,
sometimes even with a picture of a dog with a red line through it !
I hate those signs. They make me mad !
I think it is unfair that Hackles can’t just go wherever she wants.
Sometimes I just ignore those nasty old signs.
Not everyone loves dogs.
Some people are scared of dogs.
Some children are so scared of dogs they have to scream and run away whenever they see a dog.
When someone acts afraid of Hackles, I get really upset.
Hackles is really sweet and wouldn’t hurt anyone.
Sometimes I want to take Hackles right up to the scared child and make them pat her,
just so they can see there is no reason to be afraid.
If I take Hackles too close to a scared child it could be really dangerous.
The child might run away onto a busy road or into deep water.
Or they might scream so much that Hackles gets scared and angry and bites them.
Or they might get so upset they hurt themselves or other people, or me or Hackles.
I do not want this to happen.
I will try to remember that not everyone loves dogs as much as I do.
I will try to remember that the ‘no dogs allowed’ and ‘no dogs off leash’ areas are there for a reason.
The people and children who are scared of dogs need to have somewhere they can feel safe.
I will try to remember to do what the signs say.
Smart grown-ups obey signs.