Scaffolding, Part 2: Building out the Social Stories

Our meetups with the young adults with autism have been very busy over the last few months. We have been building out our first social stories from the framework for museum visits:

  1. Before the Visit
  2. Arriving at the Museum
  3. Moving Around the Museum
  4. Leaving the Museum

After working through the framework, the young adults sorted through the information, determining what was critical for physical movement through the particular museum (for instance, interactions when entering the museum, location of elevators or restrooms) versus what were sensory challenges (loud atrium, narrow and potentially crowded museum entrance) versus “good to know” items (no flash photography, can touch anything, no food allowed). We also discussed the language and tone that would be used in the social story. We called the resulting document our “shot list.”

On a subsequent visit, we took our “shot list” and visited the museum again to photograph elements of the social story that we could tell pictorially and would provide visual cues for users. When we started the photographic process, we asked “who would like to take the photo,” “who would like to be an actor,” “what is the photo we need to take,” and “is this the right angle.” After photos were taken, we asked the young adults to crowd around the iPad and make a decision about which photos to keep so we could edit on the spot. But we found this process disjointed and confusing for the young adults. It was too unstructured and didn’t keep everyone focused on the task at hand, which led to some wandering off, others saying they were bored, and others having to be encouraged to participate.

So, we changed our photography strategy. For each photography day, we identified:

  1. A project manager who took the “shot list” and led the group through what needed to have a photograph;
  2. A scout who identified potential locations to take the photograph;
  3. A photographer who took multiple photographs from different vantage points; and
  4. Actors to help show how things were done (e.g., buying tickets at an admission desk, locating an elevator, etc.).


After all the photos were taken, we returned back to the museum, but did not look at the photos until the next meetup when we could display the “shot list” and project the photos on the wall. This enabled the group to look at the photos together and discuss which image fit what we were trying to show the best. This change in strategy proved to be important and helpful as it provided everyone with a “role” in the process. It also required them to collaborate and cooperate with their peers, gave them a purpose for the day, and required discussion and consensus. As a result, we are seeing a dramatic increase in the young adults’ self-esteem and ability to work as a group and care for one another.

The design and layout of the social stories will be completed by The Nat team, but the young adults review each finished product prior to publication. To date, we have completed two social stories: The Fleet Science Center and The Museum of Photographic Art. We have three in the design phase: San Diego Museum of Art, Museum of Man, and The San Diego History Center. And the final three are still in development: The Japanese Friendship Garden, The San Diego Natural History Museum, and the public promenade in Balboa Park called The Prado.

Young adults take photographs of entrance of Fleet Science Center. Notice the lack of focus of participants.

Some of the young adults and The Nat staff crowd around the iPad to look at the photos taken and select which images to keep.

Young adults visit the San Diego Museum of Art and make notes about visiting the galleries.

Taking a moment to read a label and enjoy the art at The San Diego Museum of Art.

Taking a break to review his notes about his visit to The San Diego Museum of Art.

A little goofing around at The San Diego History Center is always a good thing.

How awesome is it to have a chance to dance in the gallery and interact with a digital art installation?

Project manager Terrance talking with the group about what photo to be take next.

Photographer David snapping a photo at the Japanese Friendship Garden.

Scout Zoe with The Nat staff, looking for a good location for a specific photograph.


Posted By Beth Redmond-Jones.

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