Many of you have heard of Carol Grey’s Social Stories and Comic Strip Conversations. I have come up with a variation of the Comic Strip Conversation that I call Full Circle Cartooning. I feel this is a visual opportunity for students to see what they are doing, what others are thinking, what they can do about it, and then positive outcomes because others have changed their perspective.
I am a very visual person and it’s always nice to actually SEE someone show you a tool rather than just talk about it. Trying to explain this tool is much easier if I just show you how to use it. Check out my free video to see this example for yourself! I was working with a middle school student who could only express his anger by repeating several violent comments. When he was angry, he said that he was going to “bring a high powered rifle to school, shoot he teachers, call the FBI, the CIA, cut the phone lines and go up to the second story of the school and shoot people.” These comments are called scripts because that is exactly how this student used these expressions. It didn’t matter what had made this student angry, he said the same “script” each time he was upset.
This student had autism and learned how to be angry by watching violent movies and shows on TV. He knew no other way to express his anger. The first thing I wanted to do was to show him how his behavior was affecting other people. I started with a visual description of his behavior. When you do this with students, be sure to draw and talk about what you are doing with the students sitting right there with you. It’s important that they see the process and in my experience they watch every move you make. I can’t draw, as you can see, but stick figures work fine! Also be sure and label all of the “characters” in your cartoon.
So here we go. I’m going to call my student Adam. I drew a picture of Adam angry and yelling out his violent script. Although I am labeling this first picture “description” you won’t actually label this when you are working with a student. You’ll just draw the picture of the students doing the behavior.
The next piece is called “perspective”. This is where you make sure that you give your student perspective about something he/she cares about. For example, Adam really enjoyed going over to his friend’s house to play video games so including perspective of not only his teachers, but his friend and his friend’s mother was important.
So here I drew his teacher and asked, “What do you think your teacher was thinking when you said those things?” I actually have never had a student with autism who was able to answer that question. They usually say, “I don’t know”. Because our students don’t have what we call Theory of Mind, they don’t understand what other people are thinking. Because they don’t understand what other people are thinking they don’t change their behavior. That’s what makes this tool so valuable. It gives our students the insight they don’t have naturally and by sharing this with them there is a chance to get some social understanding and hopefully a change in behavior.
OK, back to the teacher’s perspective… I drew a thought bubble above the teacher’s head and wrote, “Adam is talking about bringing a gun to school and hurting people. That scares me. I’m going to report him to the principal”. Now here’s the principal and what was he thinking? He was thinking, “Adam is threatening to be violent, I need to call the police.” Here’s Adam’s friend, Ben. What was Ben thinking? He was thinking, “Adam is scaring me, I’m going to tell my mom.? What was Ben’s mom thinking? She was thinking, “I don’t want Adam coming over to my house because he might hurt someone.”
Now you need a way to help your student know what to do so a “directive” comes next. Here I drew a picture showing what he could say when he was angry. “I’m angry and I need a break” I also felt that Adam needed to see topics of what he could talk about and what he couldn’t talk about at school so I gave him a visual. I call this “understanding the directive”. I made a column for acceptable topics and a column for unacceptable topics. I also did a visual for where it was appropriate to speak his violet scripts and where it was not appropriate. We didn’t expect him to go cold turkey in the use of his violent comments so Adam was allowed to go to the assistant principal’s office or the counselor’s office if he needed to use his violent scripts. When he was in either of these locations, the staff worked to teach him new, appropriate ways to be angry. In all other places in the school, he was not allowed to use his violent scripts.
Back to the cartooning. The next piece is called “new perspective”. I showed Adam that when he changed his behavior, people then had a different view of him. I drew all the same people as before except now his friend Ben was thinking, “I want Adam to come over to play video games.” Ben’s mom was thinking, “Adam can come over and play video games any time he wants.” The teacher was thinking, “I enjoy having Adam in class.” The principal was thinking, “Adam is a good student, I’m glad he is at our school.”
The final piece is the “outcome”. This is where I drew a picture of Adam playing video games with Ben and they’re both smiling. I like showing the outcome because it gives the student a big picture view of consequences of both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
For me, it takes the situation full circle from problem to solution. It’s a win/win for students, parents and teachers!