How to Use Social Stories to Support Your Child With Autism
Social stories are narratives designed to illustrate common situations and potential issues and how people navigate and deal with them. They are great tools for children with autism to help them understand social concepts, what is expected, and how to communicate appropriately. Social stories are short, simple, and provide visual cues through illustrations.
One of the biggest strengths of a social story is how highly customizable they are. No two social stories are alike. They can be created to address a variety of common social situations, problems, and expected behaviors. Social stories are often used as part of a treatment intervention for autism by therapists, and as a parent, you can also design and use social stories at home to help support your child.
What’s a Social Story?
A social story is a personalized short story with illustrations that can be used as a tool to help explain social situations and the appropriate behaviors associated with these encounters. Social stories are customized for the particular child and explain things in a visual way that is easy for a child with autism to digest and understand. The social story can depict the appropriate way to behave while playing a game, for example, by showing children waiting for their turns patiently.
Social stories were developed by Carol Grey in the early 1990s and are illustrated narratives that are used to describe one of the following:
The social story answers the who, what, where, when, why, and how questions with descriptive statements while using a supportive tone and is designed to be personally meaningful to the specific child. Social stories are commonly used by ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapists during a therapy session to help your child learn what to expect in specific situations, how to communicate and engage properly, and what behaviors are appropriate.
Benefits of Social Stories for Autism
Social stories can help children with autism better understand and interact with the world around them. They can be used to depict specific concepts, help a child gain context, learn specific skills, and understand what to expect in certain situations. Social Stories can have the following benefits:
1. Improved communication
Social stories work to improve communication skills by depicting appropriate responses related to specific circumstances. Social stories can be used to help a child understand the concept of sharing, how to ask for help, how to listen without interrupting, or how and when to say thank you, for instance. Social stories are known to help a child to manage their behaviors more effectively in the specified scenarios.
2. Enhanced social skills
Social stories have also been shown to effectively improve social skills and to help children with autism gain insight into typical social situations and interactions. A social story can be a tool to explain a perspective to help a child with autism gain a better understanding of others, as well as a method of teaching how to engage with and remain engaged with peers during social interactions. You can use a social story to explain how a person might respond in a given situation, for example. Social stories can also be used to help with transitions or explain what to expect, and how to behave during certain events, such as a holiday party or starting school.
3. Easier learning of concepts
A social story can be designed to teach various concepts, breaking them down in an easier-to-digest format. A social story is a visual depiction of how something is done and why. Social Stories can then be used to teach self-care skills such as teeth brushing, getting dressed, or hand washing.
How to Make a Social Story
Social stories are personalized and therefore are tailored to your child specifically. The following tips for making a social story can help:
- First, you will need to determine the particular situation or area of concern you need to address. This can be different for each child.
- The social story will need to be tailored to the skill and age of the child using language that is appropriate and easy for them to understand. You can write the story in either the first or third person (using I or we), past, future, or present tense (we did, we will, or we are).
- Ensure that the social story provides adequate details about the setting, what happens in this setting, and the behaviors or actions that are expected and appropriate in this setting.
- Use varying sentence types including descriptive, perspective, directive, and affirmative sentences. You should use more descriptive sentences than anything. Descriptive sentences explain what is happening, while perspective sentences outline how the child might typically react. The directive sentences explain the expected behaviors, and the affirmative sentences show why this is appropriate.
- Add pictures or illustrations that are clear, represent the meaning of the story, and support the text directly.
- Read the story with your child to help them understand it best. It is often helpful to read a social story directly before the action or event that is being described in the story to help prepare the child. In this way, you can practice the key points of the story with your child for a more successful outcome.
Social Story Examples
Social Stories can be used for a variety of common scenarios which can include:
- Crossing the street:
We walk together and cross the street at the crosswalk.
I sometimes have a hard time waiting for the light and can get tense.
If I hold your hand, I can squeeze it to remind me we are walking together, and it helps me to relax.
Waiting for the light and crossing together helps to keep me safe.
- Sharing toys:
I like to play with some of the same toys my friends like too.
Sometimes I can feel mad or sad that someone else has a toy I want.
I will ask my friend to use a toy before taking it.
Being a good friend means using a nice voice and kind words.
Sharing with my friends makes both of us happy.
- Brushing my teeth:
I need to brush my teeth when they are dirty.
It is important to keep my teeth clean.
Brushing my teeth keeps my teeth healthy and my mouth fresh.
First, I get my toothbrush.
Then, I get my toothbrush wet.
I put a little toothpaste carefully on my toothbrush.
I brush all of my teeth with my toothbrush.
Brushing each of my teeth keeps them shiny and clean.
I rinse my toothbrush when I am finished.
My mouth feels sparkly, clean, and fresh after brushing my teeth!
- Going to the park:
I like going to the park with friends.
At the park I like to play on the playground.
I can get impatient when there are many kids on the structure.
I need to remember to be a good friend and wait my turn.
A good friend uses their words and not their hands.
When we all play together it is more fun!
Remember to add pictures or illustrations to each of these stories and the Social Story will need to be tailored and specific to your child.
Resources for Social Stories
Autism Speaks publishes some customizable social story templates addressing common issues that you can use to create your own social story for your child. Carol Grey Social Stories also publishes a Social Stories Sampler that provides models that you can use when creating your own social story by offering a guideline that parents or professionals can use to design specific Social Stories for a certain child, adolescent, or adult with autism.
There are also a variety of free (or paid) and downloadable resources for finding and creating Social Stories online and also through apps. An example includes Touch Autism, which provides a Social Story Creator and Library that can be downloaded or found on the Apple App Store.
Your ABA therapist can also be a great resource for helping you to create and effectively use Social Stories with your child.
Autism Spectrum Disorder and Social Story Research: a Scoping Study of Published, Peer-Reviewed Literature Reviews. (February 2021). Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Carol Grey Social Stories. (2022). Carol Grey – Social Stories.
Social Stories. (May 2022). Raising Children Network (Australia).
The Effect of Social Stories Intervention on the Social Skills of Male Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. (December 2015). Sociology of Education, Special Education.
Templates for Personalized Teaching Stories. (2022). Autism Speaks Inc.
Social Stories for Kids With Autism – the Ultimate Guide. (November 2020). Autism Parenting Magazine.
Social Story Sampler. (2022). Carol Grey – Social Stories.