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Social Stories and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Social stories are learning tools created to support safe and meaningful communication between individuals with autism and their parents and providers. Developed by Carol Gray in 1990, social stories describe social situations and demonstrate appropriate behavior to a child with autism. Reading the story makes the child more prepared for what’s to come. It also helps them grasp socially appropriate behavior and learn how to respond to situations. The story is a narrative created to explain how a specific situation will work out, how to respond to challenges, and how to cope with a stressful event. Social stories are helpful and can aid a child tremendously with stressful or triggering events as they navigate life.

There are social stories available for almost every scenario you can imagine. These include stories about washing hands, riding the bus, or seeing a doctor. In most cases, social stories are simple, short in length, and have defined criteria. Any person can create a social story. The skill is not limited to teachers and therapists.

Many individuals and caretakers find social stories helpful when describing an event, activity, social norm, or expectations in the event of a new experience. Social stories help children understand what is required of them beforehand and what the environment/setting will be like ahead of time. Social stories are a big part of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy, which is the most well-researched autism treatment. Still, parents and caretakers can use them outside of the treatment setting!

Social stories are like a movie trailer for what’s to come. It takes the surprise element away and lessens anxiety about the unknown. New experiences can be very triggering for a child on the autism spectrum. In creating a social story, the author follows a definitive process that starts by gathering information, exploring a topic, and designing personalized text and individualized illustrations. Defining characteristics that make up the social story ensures that every story is respectful, gentle, and understanding of a child’s needs.

Who Developed Social Stories?

The concept of social stories was created by pediatrician Dr. Carol Gray in the 1990s. Dr. Gray designed the writings for the children with autism she was treating. In 1993, Gray published her first book and published many more on the topic. Social stories are now a considerable part of autism treatment and a great go-to for new experiences. Social stories can be about any topic and are a great way to introduce new ideas and activities in a gentle way.

How Do I Write a Social Story for Autism?

Social stories are social narratives, social scripts, or story-based interventions. There are a few things to keep in mind when creating a social story for a child with autism. Below are guidelines for a fantastic social story:

  • Target a behavior/goal—A good story should explore the desired behavior.
  • Research the topic—The story should be relatable, accurate, and attractive to the reader.
  • Include descriptive and positive language—Your social story should answer where, who, when, what, why, and how.
  • Make it simple and easy to understand—The child must be able to relate to the character in the story.

Why Is Using a Social Story Important?

Social stories are critical because they can help dramatically improve the way a child with autism relates to others and the world around them. These stories help them understand what’s to come, what to do, and what not to do when faced with unfamiliar circumstances.

How Do Social Stories Help?

Social stories help to support children with autism in many ways, including:

  • expanding social skills
  • teaching social norms
  • learning connection, empathy, and compassion for others
  • gradually reducing anxiety

How Do You Write a Social Story?

Social stories are usually written in sentence format. Seven basic sentence types can be used when constructing a story for a child with autism:

  • Perspective Sentences—These generally describe another person’s internal state, such as their thoughts, knowledge, beliefs, motivations, feelings, opinions, and physical condition. For example, “My sister loves to color.”
  • Descriptive Sentences—This element of the social story answers the “why” question in the context of the event and situation. These are sentences that are factual and observable. They are free from opinions or assumptions and remain objective. These sentences are used to identify essential factors in a social situation. Example: “Parents go to work.”
  • Directive Sentences—These present the child with a response or options for different actions in a given situation or event. The responses lead to a positive outcome. Example: “I will wash my hands after playing outside.”
  • Control Sentences—These sentences are written by the child that just listened to the story and then added. These are used to determine and utilize personal strategies or solutions that the individuals will use to remember and discuss the information. For example, ” I need to eat healthy meals each day to stay healthy.”
  • Affirmative Sentences—These sentences support or reinforce the meaning of statements. They may additionally stress a shared value or opinion. Parents and providers can use these sentences alongside perspective, directive, or descriptive sentences. For example, ” I will try to eat healthy meals every day because it’s important to take good care of my body.”
  • Cooperative Sentences—These sentences contribute to a child’s understanding of the critical role played by other people in particular situations or activities. Example: “The mall is very triggering for me because of the crowds and loud noises. My mom and dad can help me navigate the chaotic location and make sure I stay regulated.”
  • Partial Sentences—These can be phrases used to encourage the autistic child to identify the ideal response to specific circumstances. Partial sentences are recommended when the child comprehends the social situation and how they should handle it. Example: “My mother loves to put on makeup when .”

What Are Some Benefits to Creating Social Stories for Children with Autism?

Social stories aid children by helping them learn how to respond appropriately to daily activities or events. Studies suggest that children with autism who received social stories exhibited enhanced social interaction skills. Other benefits include:

  • Acquiring social and self-care skills
  • Understanding, labeling, and addressing emotions
  • Learning to cope with routine changes and activity transitions
  • Learning to develop and establish relationships
  • Rewarding accomplishing a social task
  • Reinforcing and encouraging appropriate and acceptable behavior
  • Teaching how to join into activities, access imagination skills, and play with peers.

How Do Social Stories Work?

First, a psychologist, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), or speech pathologist assesses the child to identify possible areas of concern. Next, the therapist designs a social story based on a particular area of concern or situation. This individualized story is written in the first or third person. It can also be written in the past, present, or future tense. The parent or therapist will write the story in the language commonly used by the child, for example, “I go to play.” Stories should align with the child’s age and skill set.

A social story can be a physical book or an e-book. It can include pictures and drawings. When the social story is completed, the adult reads the story with the child to ensure that the child fully comprehends the scenario and behavioral expectations. In most cases, stories are read just before the event occurs. For example, before visiting a library, the child and parent will read a story about how to behave in a library.

Caretakers, therapists, and parents help the child regulate emotions and cope by reminding the child of the story’s key point. An example would be, “What level of voice do we use in a library?” This is done until the child fully understands the social situation or performs the behavior without needing to be prompted. Over time the adult will read the story less and less until it’s no longer necessary. Children with autism can experience social stories in many ways. Their capabilities will impact their understanding. For example, if the child cannot read, you would read aloud to them or record the stories.

Final Thoughts on Social Stories

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder typically do not have adequate social skills. Still, with social stories, these children can learn and develop the necessary skills to empower them in unfamiliar experiences. What’s fantastic about these stories is that they can be as creative or straightforward as you need. You can address a challenging situation without prompting anxiety. They also encourage the exploration of feelings and connections.

Additionally, social stories should be unique and personalized to your child’s interests. Using social stories with autistic children helps them comprehend the world and move through it with ease and confidence.

Social Stories and Autism Treatment at ABA Centers of America

ABA Centers of America uses social stories in our play-based ABA therapy. We also help parents and caregivers learn how to use this valuable tool, so they can use it anytime. Learn more about how we can help with ABA therapy, the gold standard in autism treatment today. Call us at 844-969-4222 for a free, no-obligation consultation. Or contact us for more information.