We all know the little voice inside our head. It’s the voice that encourages us, motivates us, and tells us that everything is going to be okay. It’s the same voice that sighs, “This is nice”, while overlooking a sunset or screams “My hamstrings!” while holding a yoga pose too long. The same voice can be full of self-doubt and negativity. It can tell you you’re not good enough or that everything in your life happens to you.
Our inner voice narrates our life as it happens to us. It also allows to tell our stories, connecting us with others through shared experiences. But what happens if your inner voice cannot stay regulated? What happens if everything in the environment is so overwhelming, your inner voice can only focus on that? What if you have a language delay and have difficulty constructing a coherent story? What if you can’t understand the perspectives of others due to an impairment in social skills?
These are common problems for children with a variety of diagnoses, including autism, PDD,-NOS, Nonverbal Learning Disability, ADHD, language and cognitive delays. Deficits specific to narrative skills are not usually identified by standardized language tests. Difficulty with narratives often go undetected since many of these children exhibit average to above average scores and intelligence. However, the impact of narrative skills on academics and overall well-being cannot be understated.
When adolescence reach high school, they are beginning to develop their own life stories. Life stories are a sequence of meaningful events that define who you are as a person. They require a great deal of self-reflection and the ability to link your personal qualities to events in your life. Themes emerge from life stories that show who the narrator is based on the way they respond to events in their life. Life stories are the lens through which we see ourselves. That is why is so important to provide quality intervention to our students who struggle with language and social impairments.
Our goal is to help our students develop a narrating style that positively guides them through their lives. This starts with engaging young children though meaningful activities and reminiscing with adults about their experiences. These are the earliest forms of stories. In the elementary school years, we can support children by helping them learn the structure of stories and understanding the motives and intentions of characters. We can encourage self-reflection through opportunities to reflect on themselves and their actions. Using words that encourage mental states such as “think,” “know,” and “feel” can encourage children to think about the perspectives of themselves and others. For children that are have difficulty with narratives, it’s important to seek out help in the form of intervention. Programs such as the Zones of Regulation (Kuypers, 2011) and Social Thinking (Winner, 2008) can complement direct narrative instruction.
Telling stories is not only necessary for academic success, it is important for navigating our social and emotional worlds. We connect with the people we love through talking and sharing our experiences. We build new friendships and connections by talking about what we have in common and share with others. Our inner speech is powerful. It can overcome is with “can’ts” and “won’ts” or guide us on a path of resilience and well-being. As Child Language Expert and Speech Language Pathologist Dr. Carol Westby reminds, “We all tell ourselves stories and we live the stories we tell ourselves. What kind of stories are you telling yourself?”
Brooke Andrews, M.A CCC-SLP is the owner of The Speech Dynamic, PLLC, a boutique speech therapy practice in Houston, TX. Brooke has presented at the North Carolina Exceptional Children’s Conference and has shared her expertise on a panel for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her clinical expertise include speech, language, social learning, and literacy.
Culatta, B & WEstby C. Telling Tales: Personal Event Narratives and Life Stories. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in the Schools. 1-23. 2016
To learn more about SocialThinking: www.socialthinking.com
To learn more about The Zones of Regulation: www.zoneofregulation.com