If you are on the autistic spectrum you may find it hard to master communication and social skills.  Social Stories are a great tool to help autistic children prepare for and respond to situations and events.

The idea is simple; through story telling, children can navigate different issues, gain a better understanding of how and why people behaviour and then make connections. 

Social Stories are not only useful for the big change events like a pandemic or a school transition, but they are really useful for the everyday situations .  Bedtime routines or learning how to washing your hands can be sequenced visually with the story showing what could happen, what should happen and why it is happening.  

We use Social Stories in our therapy sessions together with other strategies. They help children to develop appropriate social skills and behaviours by  understanding their own behaviour and emotions and then how to address them. They can also understand more about why another person responds in a certain way and see things from their perspective.

This simple story telling helps children cope with change, transition and new stressful events in their everyday life.

What is a Social Story ?

  • A Social Story needs to reflect a social interaction e.g. starting a new school, getting dressed in the morning, sitting down to a family meal.
  • They break the ‘scenario or event’ into steps that you can visualise and logically follow.
  • They look at the roles everyone plays, seeing each different perspectives, responses and sets of behaviours.  
  • This helps direct you towards an end goal which is positive and successful.

We find that by presenting information in this literal way, children can better understand a new, maybe daunting, situation. They better understand what may come next and this allows them to  plan and organise.

Of course, every new experience is not always anticipated nor predictable, but by understanding what ‘could’ happen, we can build up a bank of resources which can be used in the future. These frameworks are transferable and can be tweaked to apply to similar situations.  

Knowing there is tool kit of resources available, may help inspires confidence because they know they have seen or been successful before. 

What does a social story include?

  • A goal (where are you trying to get to and what is the goal you want to achieve? )
  • Reaching the goal – we needs to celebrate success
  • An introduction (what is the situation, who are the players?) 
  • The beloved ‘wh’ questions (who, what, where, when, why) 
  • Story telling in the first or third person (which means we use I or name / he / she / they/ it to tell the story)  
  • Positive language
  • We break the story down into parts
  • Story needs to be relevant – interms of the pictures, characters and theme

So for example if you are creating a Social Story with your son, you may encourage them to draw themselves, make the situation relevant and have a goal they would actually want to achieve.

Once a Social Story has been created, it can be adapted to a new situations and events time after time. 

What sort of topics can a Social Story be used for?

  • Developing selfcare skills  e.g. using the toilet, getting dressed 
  • Understanding how to respond and behave in a specific social situation  e.g. sharing toys, playing, making friends, playground rules 
  • Coping with change. This could be a change to a routine, experiencing an unexpected event e.g. school transition, moving house, breaking up with a friend 
  • Managing your own behaviour. e.g. Self-management if you are angry or coping with an obsession

Where can you find Social Stories examples? 

  • Gray, C. (1994) Comic strip conversations: illustrated interactions with students with autism and related disorders  Carol Gray social story sampler
  • Social Story books are available to buy e.g. Successful Social Stories™ for Young Children with Autism: Growing Up with Social Stories
  • There are thankfully a lot of online free resources available  http://hearnspeak.blogspot.com/2012/02/social-stories.html
  • Social Stories can also be made into social videos and are often engaging and useful for visual and auditory learners. e.g. Be like Buddy series for younger children https://youtu.be/J0GChccw7y8 

What can a Social Story look like?

How to write a Social Story?

  • Include the ‘problem / challenge’ in the title of the story to understand what story is about 
  • Make your story as personal as possible e.g. use engaging imagery, colouring, names, setting
  • Keep it  really positive remembering to build confidence that they can overcome the issue  
  • Identify problem triggers and where problem may occur  
  • Keep it simple, clear and direct  
  • The end of story can reinforce it’s ok to make a mistake and if it happens again they try again and do their best – resilience is so important.  

When can you use Social Stories? 

Social stories are used everyday in the classroom but they are also really useful at home.

As with a bedtime story you can read a Social Story when your child is unwinding and relaxed or you may decide to create one together and discuss the situation, relationships, behaviours etc throughout the creative process.

It is also important to leave the story with the child so they can refer back to it and this can help reinforce their learning.  

Something to note is to always review or pre-read the Social Story to make sure it is developmentally appropriate and will be interesting. You also want to make sure it reinforces what they are learning at home and in the classroom. 

Below are some useful links