Using Autism Social Stories | MyCareSpace

What are Autism Social Stories and how can I use them to support my autistic child?

Example of an autism social story

What are Social Stories?

Social stories can be used to explain social situations to autistic children and help them learn ways of behaving in these situations.

They are used to help them interpret social cues, expectations, and norms. They were initially developed for use with autistic children, but are also sometimes used to help other children with learning or intellectual disorders.

[Side note: Social Stories is a term trademarked by Carol Gray, a teacher who developed social stories for her autistic students in 1991. You can find out more about her here.

These stories are sometimes called social scripts, social narratives or story-based interventions.


How do social stories work?

Social stories work by providing a visual representation of a social situation and the appropriate behavior in that situation.

By reading and discussing the social story, the autistic child can gain a better understanding of the situation and what is expected of them. This can help reduce anxiety and improve social interaction and communication skills.


Why are social stories important for autistic children?

Autistic children often have difficulties interpreting social cues and understanding social norms. For example, they may not recognise body language, facial expressions, gestures and eye contact. This can lead to difficulties in communication and social interaction, which can cause significant stress and anxiety.

Social stories help autistic children learn ways of behaving in social settings.

Social stories do this by explicitly pointing out:

  1. details about the setting
  2. things that typically happen in that setting
  3. the actions or behaviour that are typically expected from children in the setting.

This can help children pick up on cues they normally wouldn’t notice and learn how to respond to these cues. It might also help children learn new skills for social situations.


So how do you create a social story?

Writing a social story requires careful consideration of the individual's perspective, the situation being described, and the expected behavior.

Here are the steps you need to follow to create a social story:

Step 1: Identify the situation

The first step in writing a social story is to identify the situation that you want to describe (each social story should relate to a single event).

This could be a specific social event, such as a birthday party, or a more general situation, such as using public transportation or going to the dentist.

The situation should be chosen based on the individual's specific needs and challenges, and should be something that they are likely to encounter in their daily life.


Step 2: Define the perspective

Once you have identified the situation, it is important to define the perspective from which the story will be written.

This could be the perspective of the autistic individual (using the pronoun I) , or it could be the perspective of others (using the pronoun they) in the situation.

The perspective should be chosen based on the individual's specific needs and the goal of the story.


Step 3: Describe the situation

The next step is to describe the situation in a clear and concise manner.

This should include a visual description of the setting, as well as a description of the characters and any key events that are taking place.

The description should be written in a neutral tone, and should be free of judgment or interpretation.


Step 4: Identify the expected behavior

Once you have described the situation, it is important to identify the expected behavior in that situation. This should include specific actions that the child should take, as well as the thoughts and feelings they should have.

The expected behavior should be written in a clear and concise manner, and should be based on the individual's specific needs and challenges.


Step 5: Provide a positive outcome

Finally, it is important to provide a positive outcome for the story. This should describe the positive consequences of the individual's expected behavior, and should be written in a way that is motivating and encouraging.

The positive outcome should be realistic and achievable, and should be something that the individual can look forward to.


Tips for writing a successful autism social story

  1. Check the person’s communication ability: It’s really important to know how much someone understands before you write a story for them.
  2. Keep it simple: Social stories should be written in a clear and concise manner, using simple language that is easy to understand. Avoid using complex language or technical terms that may be difficult for the individual to understand. Simple white backgrounds help to eliminate other visual distractions and put the foucs on the photos and text.
  3. Focus on one event at a time: Only write about one topic per social story. You do not want to overwhelm your child. So pick one topic, such as visiting the dentist, for your social story and write only about that particular topic.
  4. Use pictures to support the text: Photos or illustrations can greatly enhance the effectiveness of a social story. Visual aids can help the individual understand the situation and the expected behavior more easily. Tip: include photos of the environment and real people in your story where possible - this will make it more relatable.
  5. Include the actual words or phrases the child needs to say: E.g. include what a child should say (i.e., "Trick or treat!") when at a house so that the child can repeat that exact phrase correctly while actually trick-or-treating.

    Social stories should include 2-5 descriptive or perspective sentences for each directive sentence. Social stories written in this manner have been found to be more successful.

  6. Answer the 'WH' questions: Social stories should always include descriptive sentences, which answer the WH questions like when, who, what, where, why, and how.
  7. Involve the person: Social Stories are most successful when the person themselves is involved in the process. Ask them what colour they want the front cover to be and what photos they would like for the book. It’s also good to check the story over with the person before producing the final version.
  8. Describe how the child or others should react or feel: Social stories should also describe how the child should feel or react to the certain event or skill.
    Example: It is okay for me to cry at a funeral.
  9. Write the social story in the first person and the present tense: Write it from the perspective of the child. It will help them relate to the story!
  10. The language should always focus on the positive: The social stories should focus on what the child should or can do and not on what the child can or cannot do. Reword any negative or unexpected behaviors as positively as you can.
  11. Revise and Rework: Once the story is written, it is important to review and revise it as needed. This may involve getting feedback from the individual with autism, or from others who know them well. Revisions should be made based on the individual's specific needs and goals, and should aim to make the story as clear and effective as possible.
  12. Support the person to read the story and practice the strategies: Success with Social Stories happens with consistency and support. Have the story available to the person throughout the day and refer to it. Talk about the strategies and reinforce the positive messages.


Social Stories Examples

Here are some great examples of social stories:


Write your own Social Story

While it's nice to be able to find lots of premade social stories online, sometimes they're not quite what you need. Maybe you need the social story to be more personalized. Maybe you want to incorporate the child's special interest or include the names of specific people or places, for instance. 

Sometimes you just need to write your own social story. Actually, you should be writing a social story most of the time anyway. That way it's tailored to the child who will be reading and using it. 

So to make it even easier for you to write the perfect social story for your child, here are some free social story templates. You'll be writing a custom social story in no time! 

Here are some social story templates to help you get started:

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