What Are Social Stories for Autism?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on October 06, 2022

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis has increased over the years thanks to advancements in diagnostic tools and our understanding. For children and adults with ASD, intervention is sometimes needed. Social stories are one intervention tool you can use to assist children with ASD.  

What Is a Social Story?

Social stories have been developed since 1990, when they were first created by teacher Carol Gray. These stories are typically designed from a child’s point of view, either using words or illustrations, to fit a child’s attention span and learning style. Since their introduction, they have been used in classrooms for general, social, and linguistic education.  

While these stories can benefit autistic individuals of all ages, they have the most benefit for children with ASD. In some cases, though, social stories may not be as effective, including cases where children are non-verbal or lack comprehension skills. 

How Are Social Stories Created?

Anyone can create social stories, whether they are a parent, teacher, or medical professional. For example, a psychologist or speech pathologist might sit down with your child, engage with them, and then identify where they need help. 

Once they have assessed a child, they can create a social story, usually based on specific situations where a child needs help. Parents and teachers can use the same methods to assess the child in their care and determine the best social story for their situation.

If words are used to write the story, the words will match the child’s age level. Illustrations and photos can also be used in social stories, and the stories can either be put into a printed book or an eBook. Once it is ready, the child can read the story or have it read to them to help them overcome daily struggles. 

Typically, these stories are read before the events described in the stories. For example, if a child will be going to a grocery store, then the story might focus on what could happen at the store and the appropriate responses a child should have. 

Once the child is familiar with the story, it’s important to help the child understand the social situation involved. This can be achieved either by reminding them of key points in the story or asking questions, such as what the story tells them to do. 

Social Stories Benefits

Social stories help autistic children understand social situations, actions, and emotions. They also help children practice self-care techniques and safety skills, such as brushing their teeth and safely crossing the road.  

Other benefits affect:

  • Memory: Social stories are meant to be read and reread to help children become familiar with an event or social interaction. Since these stories are read repeatedly, they help with memory development and prediction.
  • Empathy: Social stories are often told from the perspective of other characters and convey the feelings and thoughts of these characters. They’re a good representation of different points of view, and introducing these points of view to children can help them understand how others feel and build empathy.
  • Communication: Social stories help children understand social situations and how they are expected to act in specific scenarios. They also help them understand instructions, which helps them develop clear communication skills.
  • Literacy: If your child is old enough to read independently, social stories present the perfect opportunity to develop literacy skills. Since the stories need to be read repeatedly, the child can extensively practice reading skills and comprehension.
  • Experiences: Children with ASD often have anxiety about new experiences and transitions. Experiences like attending school for the first time, riding on an airplane, or visiting the zoo can be intimidating. Rehearsing for these events through social stories can help lessen the anxiety that comes with new experiences.
  • Routines: Social stories can be written to illustrate routines, such as morning routines, afternoon routines, and bedtime routines. Once a child becomes familiar with these stories, teaching the routines will be easier.

Social Stories Examples

Social stories can be created for various situations and scenarios, from going to school for the first time to going to a restaurant or even handling a bully. Stories should be created based on each individual’s needs in areas where they struggle, though some social stories can be shared between children, especially if they struggle in the same area. 

Here are two examples of social stories: 

Going to School 

Today’s my first day going to school. School is where I go to learn and make friends. School can be fun. 

School can also be scary. Mom and dad won’t be there, and I’ll be around strangers. 

The teacher is there to help when I feel scared or have a question. Mom and dad met the teacher and explained what I like and what I don’t like. The teacher can help me adjust to my new surroundings. 

There might be a lot of strange kids there, but that just means I can make lots of friends. 

When I get my assigned seat, I can say hello to the person sitting next to me and be their friend. 

Making new friends is easy at school. School isn’t as scary as I thought. 

At the Zoo 

We’re going to the zoo today, and everyone is excited. 

But I’m feeling scared. 

The zoo has many different animals like tigers and zebras. We’ll get to see and learn about all the different animals there. 

Animals are cool. I like animals. 

But they can also be scary. 

There will be a lot of people there. 

What if I get lost?

Mom and dad will be there, and so will my brother and sister. 

Mom will pack snacks and drinks. 

Dad will drive us to the zoo.

When we get there, we’ll all stay together. 

Mom will hold my hand so I don’t get lost in the crowd. 

There are many people there, but I don’t see them. All I see are the animals. 

The animals are in big cages. They can’t get to me. 

They can see me. I can see them. 

I wave to the tigers. 

I feed some goats. 

I learn about giraffes. Giraffes are cool. 

The zoo is fun, and I like it here. 

I hope we can go back soon. 

Social Story Ideas

There are several opportunities for social stories. Here are just a few ideas you can try based on your child’s specific needs: 

  • Going to the Park
  • Sharing Is Caring (Learn To Share!)
  • Visiting the Doctor
  • In the Waiting Room
  • Making My First Friend
  • Attending a Birthday Party
  • Going on an Airplane
  • Riding a Bus
  • Going to the Dentist 

Are Social Stories Effective?

Some research has shown promising results in the effectiveness of social stories and autism. However, whether a social story works or not will depend on the specific child. Since each child is different, it’s important to mold each social story to fit an individual child and then use these stories correctly. 

Show Sources

Michigan State University: “Once upon a social story: Advantages, writing and presenting social stories.” “Social stories.”
Summit DD: “Social Stories: A child’s best friend to new opportunities.”

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