Developed in 1991, Social Stories for kids with autism have gained massive popularity among parents and special educators. There is a social story available for many common scenarios, from making friends to washing hands or maintaining personal space during COVID-19.
In this ultimate guide we discuss everything you need to know.
A social story is a narrative made to illustrate certain situations and problems and how people deal with them. They help children with autism understand social norms and learn how to communicate with others appropriately.
The Social Stories concept was developed by child pediatrician Dr. Carol Gray in the early 1990s. Dr. Gray started writing these for the autistic children she worked with. In 1993, she published her first book and has since published several more on this subject.
A helpful story:
+Has a specific goal – it should target the desired behavior
+Is well-researched – it should be accurate, relevant, and interesting to the reader
+Is descriptive and uses positive language – it should answer where, when, who, what, how, and why and use simple, encouraging words.
+Uses these components of a social story
Why is a Social Story important?
Social Stories are essential because they can significantly improve the way children with autism relate to others. They help them learn what to do (and what not to do) when faced with unfamiliar life situations.
What are comic strip conversations?
Comic strip conversations are simple illustrations that show two or more people having a conversation using short sentences. Some children with autism learn better with visuals, so creating comic strips can be an effective tool. Constructing cartoon strips for kids is an enjoyable way for young people to communicate their thoughts and feelings while building the imagination.
What do Social Stories help with?
They support kids with autism by:
- Teaching social norms
- Improving social skills“>social skills
- Learning to empathize and have compassion with others
- Reducing anxiety
These stories are generally written in a sentence format. There are seven basic sentences that are generally used in its construction for children with special needs. These are:
- Perspective sentences – General descriptions of the internal state of another person like his/her knowledge, thoughts, beliefs, feelings, motivations, and opinions, as well as his/her physical condition.
Example: “My brother likes to swim.”
- Descriptive sentences – Answers the “why” questions in a social situation or event. They are factual and observable sentences that are free from assumptions and opinions and are used to identify the most important factors in a social situation.
Example: “Children go to school to study.”
- Directive sentences – Presents a response or choice of actions to a given situation or event in a positive way.
Example: “I will brush my teeth after each meal.”
- Control sentences – These are written by the child who just heard the story. These are used to identify or remember the personal strategies or solutions that the child will use to recall and use information.
Example: “I need to brush my teeth after each meal to keep them healthy.”
- Affirmative sentences – These sentences are used to support or reinforce the meaning of statements and may stress a shared value or opinion. These can be employed along with directive, perspective, or descriptive sentences.
Example: “I will try to brush my teeth after each meal. It is very important to have healthy teeth.”
- Cooperative sentences – These sentences help a child understand the important role played by other people in a certain situation or activity.
Example: “There are a lot of cars on the street. My dad and mom can assist me in crossing the street.”
- Partial sentences – These are sentences used to encourage a child with autism to determine the ideal response to certain situations. These sentences are recommended when the child has a significant understanding of social situations and how they are handled.
Example: “My brother loves to play basketball.”
Some benefits to creating Social Stories for autistic children
These stories help kids learn how to respond to daily situations or events appropriately. A 2015 study of 30 children with autism, half of which went through Social Stories training, returned positive results. The experimental group who received a social story exhibited improved social interaction.
Here are some benefits:
- Helps kids learn self-care and social skills
- Allows children with special needs to understand their behavior as well as others
- Assists autistic kids in understanding emotions such as anger, sadness, and happiness, and how to address them
- Helps children on the spectrum cope with various changes and everyday life transitions
- Encourages kids to work on developing relationships and provides rewards for accomplishing social tasks
- Reinforces proper and/or accepted behavior
- Teaches autistic kids how to join in activities, use their imagination, and play with others
- Provides the tools to teach kids with special needs to make and maintain friendships, as well as to join in group activities.
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Social story examples and videos for children with special needs
Below is a list of social story ideas that include common social situations your child might encounter.
Some children on the spectrum do not understand the concept of personal space. This video is a good social story about respecting the personal space of others.
Social story for hitting
Sometimes children with special needs don’t understand boundaries or that it’s not okay to hit. This story explains what to do in those circumstances.
If your child has difficulty taking turns with his/her playmates or classmates, then this story about taking turns might help.
Friends can make life for your child easier, so help him/her make friends with this great social story (download the PDF here).
Social Stories for stealing
Stealing is a serious offense so it is important to correct this behavior as early as possible. Social Stories for stealing like the one below can help your child understand stealing is a negative behavior with grave consequences.
To ensure that your child understands proper hygiene and toileting, a good social story for these situations are essential. Here’s a great video that highlights the concept of potty training.
Help your child get through bouts of stress and worry with this social story (download full PDF here.)
Trying to transition your child from one activity to another is a common challenge among parents with children on the spectrum. This free PDF about putting away blocks can be handy.
Social story templates
While we covered a few of the possible options, there may be situations that are unique to your situation. If you are feeling inspired to make your own, you can get more free social story templates and downloadable PDF’s from these sites:
There is also the option of exploring a social story creator app for your smartphone.
General tips for creating and telling Social Stories for autistic children
Here are some suggestions for parents and carers of kids with autism on how to effectively create Social Stories to deal with the specific needs of a child:
- Determine/decide on the topic of the social story
When writing a story, parents or carers should focus on one situation or topic at a time. This subject could be general, such as brushing one’s teeth, washing one’s hands, taking a bath, or a specific one like boarding an airplane and visiting the doctor for a medical check-up.
- Base the features of the main character of the story on the features of the child
Try to create your story as a reflection of your autistic child and your family. You can achieve this by making the main character’s physical features, gender, interest, and skills similar to your child. You can also include the family members in the story to teach your child their importance in his/her life.
- Associate Stories with positive behaviors
Create your story in such a way that your child can associate it with positive behaviors, as well as use it to fight negative emotions, and to accept new situations and activities positively. Make sure that the atmosphere, attitude, and tone of the characters in the story are comforting, understanding, positive, and patient at all times.
- Make different stories for every specific need
You should develop one story for each specific need of a child. Some examples of specific needs are how to communicate properly with peers and adults, how to develop friendships and relationships, and the proper things to do after waking up.
- Properly accounting for your child’s mood when telling a social story
When you are planning to tell a social story to your autistic child, you should consider his/her mood, as well as the time and place of your story-telling activity. Make sure that the child is fresh, relaxed, energetic, and free from anxiety symptoms during the activity.
- Tell or present a social story about a certain behavior before asking your child to display said behavior
You should tell a social story about a particular behavior before the time you expect him/her to exhibit such behavior in a social event or situation. This will help your child to remember the story and hopefully apply the ideal behavior as described in the story.
- Ask your child to tell his/her own story
Once in a while, you should ask your child to tell you his/her own story. This is an effective way to learn the things your child experiences every day or the things your child wants to do. You should be very sensitive to the stories your child tells you so that you can immediately identify and resolve any problem that he/she is experiencing.
Children with autism may not have perfect social skills, but with Social Stories, they can learn and develop these skills. The beauty of these stories is that they can be as simple or as creative as you make them and can be modified to suit your child’s interests. Because of this, your child can better appreciate your ideas and make a significant impact on his/her social behavior.