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Autism and Aggression: A Social Story for Hitting

October 16, 2023

“Ow! Joey’s hitting me!” That phrase has been said far too often in my home. My son is considered “profound” on the autism spectrum and needs a lot of redirection. So, what do you do when your child is aggressive and hitting? Many autism advocates suggest using a social story for hitting. In simple terms, a social story is a creative way to help individuals with autism learn appropriate behaviors.

Autism and Aggression: A Social Story for Hitting

Joey is normally very sweet and playful, but a lot of times, he will become aggressive. It’s not angry or aggressive as he seems to think he’s just playing, but his normally hitting actions will lead to pain for his mother, brother, myself, or others outside the family. A social story can thus go a long way in helping your child understand it’s not okay to hit even if they are excited.

What are Social Stories?

Social stories are a widely used therapeutic tool in special education and the management of autism spectrum disorders. They were developed by Carol Gray in the early 1990s to help individuals, particularly those with autism, understand social situations, routines, and behavioral expectations.

Social stories are written narratives that provide clear and concise information about a specific social situation, helping children with autism learn appropriate social behaviors and responses. Here are some key characteristics of social stories:

  • Structured Format: Social stories typically follow a structured format that includes situation descriptions, perspectives, and appropriate responses. They are written in a way that is easy to understand and tailored to the child’s specific needs.
  • Visual Supports: Social stories may include visual supports such as pictures, symbols, or icons to enhance comprehension, especially for individuals who are visual learners or have limited reading skills.
  • Person-Centered: Social stories are often written from the perspective of the child using them, helping them relate to the story more effectively.
  • Positive and Descriptive: They focus on positive, appropriate behaviors and describe what is expected in a given situation rather than what not to do. The emphasis is on providing clear guidelines for successful social interactions.
  • Individualized: Social stories are personalized to address the specific needs and challenges of the child. They can be customized for various situations, such as attending school, visiting a doctor, or engaging in social activities.
  • Repetition: Social stories are often used repeatedly to reinforce appropriate behaviors and help individuals with autism or other social communication difficulties become more comfortable and skilled in various social situations.
  • Collaborative: Typically, social stories are created collaboratively, involving input from parents, educators, or therapists who have a good understanding of the individual’s needs and goals.

Benefits of Using Social Stories

Social stories offer significant benefits for children on the spectrum. One of the primary benefits of social stories is their ability to enhance social understanding. 

Children with autism often struggle with grasping the unwritten rules of social interactions, and social stories break down these complex scenarios into simple, concrete steps.

Moreover, social stories reduce anxiety and uncertainty, a common issue for children with autism. They offer a structured, visual way to present what to expect in different situations, reducing the stress associated with the unexpected or unfamiliar.

In addition, social stories contribute to improved communication skills. By presenting social interactions in a structured format, these narratives teach individuals with autism how to express themselves, ask for help, and engage in conversation.

Social stories support consistency in learning and behavior. By reinforcing the same information over time, children with autism are more likely to generalize their newly acquired skills across various settings and situations.

These narratives are particularly useful in preparing individuals with autism for transitions, such as starting school, moving to a new home, or visiting the dentist. They ease the transition process by familiarizing the person with what to expect, thereby reducing stress associated with change.

Social stories reduce anxiety, enhance communication, and provide clear behavioral guidance while customizing to the child’s specific needs and fostering consistency in learning and behavior. When used with other therapies and interventions, social stories can significantly improve the social and communication skills of children with autism.

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Why Use A Social Story for Hitting?

Children on the autism spectrum may not learn the same way as neurotypical children. Several therapies have been introduced over the years to help autistic individuals grow and learn, with varying results. In 1991, Carol Gray, a teacher working with children with autism, developed the social story to help teach appropriate behaviors depending on the social situations.

A study published in Sage Journals looked at the use of social stories in autistic children. Social stories were introduced as parts of ABA and ACABA therapies. After introducing social stories, all three children demonstrated that the frequency of the targeted inappropriate behaviors decreased. The study also found that the children continued to demonstrate the appropriate behaviors in social situations even after the social stories were no longer used, suggesting a lasting impact.

Of course, as with every other scenario, every individual on the autism spectrum is different, and results aren’t universal. But, if your child is prone to hit, a social story may work to change that behavior.

How Can You Create A Social Story for Hitting?

A good hitting social story focuses on helping the child understand why they shouldn’t be hitting. A short social story would be best, depending on your child’s focus. It can explain how hitting hurts while helping them understand why they feel frustrated, angry, or excited and want to hit.

Some websites can help you learn how to write a hitting social story for your child. Some websites contain free social stories for you to use. However, it must be noted that social stories are not universal and won’t always work. Remember, it’s important to keep the message clear so it doesn’t get lost.

An Example of a Social Story for Hitting

When trying to develop a social story to tackle, it’s best to keep it simple. This can explain how the person feels angry, upset, or frustrated before lashing out and hitting or kicking someone else. The social story explains how hitting someone can hurt them and has consequences. The social story can help people identify ways to calm down even if they struggle with their emotions. This can work for an adult or children.

After the person with autism is calm, they can use their words to explain why they are angry, frustrated, or upset. It’s short and simple, but it can also be just what is needed for certain social situations, especially those involving hitting or kicking.

Why Might Your Child Struggle With Aggression?

Many children on the autism spectrum are prone to aggressive behaviors. It can be hitting, kicking, biting, or other behavior, but the children often don’t know how to express their emotions. With my son, Joey, he hits when he’s happy, he hits when he’s angry, and he hits when he’s tired and fighting sleep. Studies of children with autism have shown that 68% will express aggression toward a caregiver, while 49% will express aggression toward someone else. It’s not clear why rates of aggression are so much higher in autistic people, but it’s known that aggression will present itself in different ways depending on the person.

Behavioral therapies have been introduced to help reduce aggression in people with autism. Autism Parenting Magazine has highlighted how a social story could help students understand the right behavior for a fire drill. While it would be a different focus, the same principle can be applied to help people on the spectrum reign in their aggressive tendencies in social situations.

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A hitting social story can be perfect to help autistic individuals understand why it’s inappropriate to hit. These can be beneficial if they are a student in school or an adult who needs guidance. 

A social story needs to be short and to the point, but it can go a long way to improve a person’s behavior and perspective in social situations. If your special someone with autism is prone to hit, giving them a social story can help them when needed.


Q: What is aggression in the context of autism?

A: Aggression in the context of autism refers to behaviors such as hitting, biting, or other physically or verbally harmful actions that individuals with autism may exhibit. It can respond to various triggers or difficulties in communication and self-regulation.

Q: How can a social story help address hitting behavior in individuals with autism?

A: A social story is a visual and narrative tool that helps individuals with autism understand social situations and expected behaviors. It can be tailored to address hitting by explaining why it’s inappropriate, offering alternative ways to express frustration, and reinforcing positive behaviors.

Q: What are the key components to include in a social story for hitting?

A: A social story for hitting should include a clear description of the problem behavior, explanations about why hitting is not acceptable, alternative coping strategies, and positive outcomes of using those strategies. It should also use simple language and visuals to enhance understanding.

Q: Can social stories effectively reduce aggression in all individuals with autism?

A: While social stories can be helpful, their effectiveness may vary from person to person. The success of a social story largely depends on an individual’s needs, learning style, and the level of support and reinforcement provided. It’s important to tailor the social story to the individual.

Q: What role do consistency and reinforcement play in the success of a social story intervention?

A: Consistency and reinforcement are crucial to the success of a social story intervention. Caregivers, educators, and therapists should consistently use the social story and reinforce positive behaviors. This consistency helps individuals with autism understand and internalize the message, making it more likely for them to replace hitting with appropriate behavior.

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