How To Write A Social Story

Help Advance Your Child's Learning, Understanding Of Social Situations And Replace Problem Behavior

Autism social stories are a tool or strategy used to establish replacement social skills for both children and adults with autism. Though they do not necessarily fix the problem. An autism social story gives a person information about social situations they find difficult or confusing. They are a strength-based teaching strategy, which builds on natural skills and behaviors.

Sample of How to Write a
Social Story

Lining Up
At school, we sometimes line up.
We line up to go to the gym, to go to the library, and to go out to recess. Sometimes my friends and I get excited when we line up, because we're going someplace fun, like out to recess.
It is okay to get excited, but it is important to try to walk to the line.
Running can cause accidents, and my friends or I could get hurt. I will try to walk to the line.

See also our personal collection: Examples of Autism Social Stories.

Characteristics of autism social stories

Social Stories are short, straightforward descriptions of social situations which provide details of what a person might expect from a situation, and describes what may be expected of the person.

Characteristics of Autism

One of the major symptom categories of autism is social skills deficits, considered by many to be the defining characteristic of this disorder. Examples can range from lack of engagement to unusual patterns of interacting with others, and trouble understanding facial expressions.

Lack of social skills can add to problem behavior for many children. Especially those with autism. Behavior is a way to get people to do something when you don't know a better way. This is true for children with disabilities, and for children whose social or cultural background has not supported these skills.

Why Being Social Is Hard

There is a suspected "theory of mind" deficiency in autism, such as a lack of understanding that other people have their own thoughts, feelings, etc., an inability to assume what other people are thinking, often cannot interpret social cues, and trouble understanding facial expressions.

Social Skills Deficits

There are three general areas of social skills deficits:

  • Social avoidance – child is hypersensitive and seeks to avoid social situations
  • Social indifference – child does not actively seek out social interaction
  • Social awkwardness – child is typically higher functioning, but has difficulty with reciprocal interaction in conversation or interests.

History of Social Stories

Social Stories were developed by Carol Gray for persons with autism in early 1991, and written for children and adults with autism spectrum disorders by students at Jenison High School in Jenison, MI.

Gray's program described positive outcomes for hundreds of autistic students. Many parents, family members, educators, therapists across the country usually describe the use of social stories as being effective.

Formal research on the effectiveness of autism social stories is just beginning to come out.

Autism Social Stories Overview

  • Provide personal scenarios for difficult situations
  • Create a script for appropriate behavior
  • Use areas of strength:
  • - Reading skills
    - Interest in repeatedly hearing/reading story, and interest in routines
    - Gives concrete, detailed explanations
  • Assists in learning the perspectives of others
  • Designed to encourage appropriate behavior

Autism Social Story Guidelines
  • Write a social story from the perspective of the person with autism. Create a word picture – what they would see and experience
  • Use a combination of different types of sentences, following the recommended ratio: Descriptive, Perspective, Directive
  • May be supplemented with additional, optional types of sentences: Affirmative, Control, Cooperative

What are Descriptive sentences?

Descriptive sentences provide information about specific social settings or situations, i.e. give cues to what the person sees, who is involved, and what happens. For example:

  • At school, most people go to the cafeteria for lunch.
  • When it is lunchtime, most students eat lunch.
  • I go to the cafeteria for lunch.

What are Perspective sentences?

Perspective sentences describe the internal states of other people. These type sentences provide information about thoughts, feelings, and/or mood of other people. Describing the internal stuff, many children with autism do not know about. For example:

  • Many students like to eat their lunch with others.
  • Everyone likes it best when each student only touches their own food.

What are Directive sentences?

Directive sentences provide information about what the student should do to be successful in the target situation. For example:

  • When I eat, I will touch my own food.
  • I drink my own drink.

Recommended formula for writing Autism social stories

The recommended formula for writing social stories based on Carol Gray's opinion is two to five Descriptive sentences for each Directive sentence, which may include Perspective sentences. Research shows that many stories which follow the ratio, do work. Studies have not found any high numbers or shown that stories which did not follow the ratio do not work.

What are Optional sentences?

There are no more recommendations or research available on the ratio, or use of Optional sentences such as listed below:

  • Affirmative – enhance the meaning of other statements by expressing commonly shared opinions
  • Control – when written by student, serves as a trigger to remind them to use the story
  • Cooperative – identifies what other people will do to support student using the skill being taught

Other guidelines for writing autism social stories
  • Social Story usually written in the first-person
  • Social Story usually written in present-tense
  • Provide more information about the social situation than you think the student needs
  • Prepare them to act appropriately

A 3-Step Processs to Write Autism Social Stories:

Step One

  • What will this story be about?
  • What is the skill or behavior you want to establish for your child?
  • What do you want them to be able to do?

Reasons to write an autism social story
  • Learn new routines
  • Provide missing information
  • Help children cope with and ajust to change
  • Help advance interpersonal understanding
  • To aid the development of appropriate behaviors
  • Provide insight into what other people are thinking and feeling

Sample topics for autism social stories
  • Asking a question
  • Eating at the table
  • Sharing
  • Playing games to have fun, or "winning isn't everything"
  • Crossing the street
  • It's OK to look at girls
  • Why I should not holler

Step Two

Create a Profile

  • What is your child's interest in reading?
  • What is your childs ability to read and understand language?
  • Write to their ability to read and/or understand
  • Do not need a formal grade-level analysis, but if you know it – consider it in your writing.

Level of Understanding

  • Be Careful – we often over-estimate what children with autism actually understand
  • Type of language your child understands, i.e. their degree of real language, length of sentences

Step Three

Writing the Story

  • Do a Task Analysis, i.e. review the skill being taught, break it down into small specific steps the child needs to understand and perform the task, look at examples of social tasks that are broken down
  • Write the steps into the story – remember the ratio for number and type of sentences to use

Social Stories Design Factors

  • Text can be supplemented with pictures and icons. Pictures are especially effective for younger children – makes it look like a picture book. Many people with autism have described themselves as "thinking in pictures." Digital technology, i.e. cameras, make it pretty easy for many to individualize Social Stories for a specific student.

Skill-Streaming Examples
  • Following Instructions
- Listen carefully to the instructions
- Ask questions about anything you do not understand
- Repeat the instructions to the person (or to yourself)
- Follow the instructions

Introducing Yourself
  • Decide if you want to meet the person
  • Decide if it is a good time
  • Walk up to the person
  • Introduce yourself
  • Wait for the person to tell you his/her name. (If he/she does not tell you, ask.)

Notes on Introducing
  • Consider why students might want to meet a person (looks friendly, is new to the class, etc.)
  • May need to identify how to choose good times
  • Discuss inappropriate distance/personal space
  • Give examples of ways to introduce oneself
  • Give examples of appropriate ways to ask a person's name

Asking Permission

  • Decide what you want to do
  • Decide whom to ask
  • Plan what to say
  • Choose the right place and time
  • Ask in a friendly way

More on Permission
  • Need to be sure the activity is safe
  • May need help identifying who the appropriate authority is
  • May need concrete indicators to show when it is a good time to ask
  • Describe body language and nonverbal communications that show a friendly attitude

Source: This page is derived from personal notes, participation and technical support at the workshop "Using Social Stories to Teach Replacement Skills," with Philip Smith, PhD Westchester Institute for Human Development.

Introducing an autism social story

1. Find a quiet place with the least possible distractions.

2. Read the story to your child. Other rehearsal possibilities are: a) have your child read it out loud to you or others, and b) have others read it out loud to the person.

3. Develop a consistent time schedule to review the story. For example, daily before the situation occurs.

4. After the story is mastered, keep it visible and accessible for student reference.

5. Once a social story is part of a child's routine, continually monitor its effectiveness. If necessary, rewrite parts of story to improve your child's performance.

If you'd like to use or personalize your own prewritten autism social story, Carol Gray offers about 100 stories with illustrations in 13 different categories.

An autism social story may also help your child learn daily living activities i.e. brushing your teeth, and taking a bath.

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