Social stories are simple descriptions of an everyday social situation, written from a child’s perspective. Social stories can help a child prepare for upcoming changes in routine, de-mystify social interactions, and relate academic skills to real-life experiences. The idea is that, with the help of an adult, the child rehearses the story ahead of time. When the situation actually happens, the child can then use the story to help guide his or her behaviour.
Each social story uses several different types of sentences:
- Descriptive sentences (De) give who, what, where, and why details about the situation so the child can recognize when that situation actually occurs.
- Directive sentences (Di) tell the child the appropriate social responses in that situation.
- Perspective sentences (P) describe one of the child’s possible feelings or responses.
- Affirmative sentences (A) often refer to a law or a rule or are a commonly shared opinion.
- Cooperative sentences (Co) describe how other people will help out in a given situation.
- Control sentences (Cn) are created by the child to help remember strategies that work for him or her.
For example, a social story using all six sentence types is:
When we go to the shoe store, There will be many shoes to choose from. (De) I might not know which shoes I like. (P) That is okay with everyone. (A) I can hold onto my string while I decide. (Cn) When I decide about the shoes, I will tell the grown-up. (Di) The grown-up will go get the shoes for me. (Co)
It has been suggested that social stories should use each of these types of sentences only in specific ratios or amounts. For example, some researchers suggest that directive sentences should not be used as often as descriptive sentences. However, social stories can still be effective without following these rules.
Social stories are written in the first person, in the present tense, and from the child’s point of view. The parent, teacher, therapist or counselor should write the story to match the child’s vocabulary and comprehension level. The story is written and put into booklet format. Once it is ready, an adult should read the story with the child at least twice, even if the child is capable of reading it. For children who cannot read, audio and/or videotapes of the story can be made for the child to review each day. Finally, the effectiveness of each story should be monitored, with the story being faded out when the behaviour has been learned.
The theory behind social stories is that impairment in reciprocal social interaction is one of the main characteristics of autism. This impairment might result from the unusual activation of certain areas of the brain that are used for social skills.
Social stories were developed to help improve social interactions in children with autism by giving simple and clear descriptions of social cues and appropriate behaviours. However, it is not clear why social stories work for children with autism when picking up social cues from the everyday environment does not. Some researchers believe individuals with autism have trouble understanding what others believe, know, or don’t know. This difficulty is sometimes called the theory of mind deficit in autism.
There are several ways in which social stories may help improve a child’s theory of mind. One is that by giving examples of specific social cues and behaviours, social stories may improve social problem-solving in general. Social stories may also help organize social ides and cues that were previously disorganized. Moreover, by using print, audio, or video to replace in-person teaching, social stories may take away some of the anxiety of social relationships. In this way, children with autism can concentrate on what is being said rather than on their relationship with the person who is saying it.
- Gray, C.A., and J.D. Garand. 1993. “Social Stories: Improving responses of students with autism with accurate social information .” Focus on Autistic Behavior 8(1):1-10.
- Del Valle, P.R., et al. 2001. “Using Social Stories with Autistic Children.” Journal of Poetry Therapy 14(4):187-197.
- Reynhout, G., and M. Carter. 2006. “Social Stories for children with disabilities.” J Autism Dev Disord. 36(4):445-469.
- Rowe, C. 1999. “Do Social Stories Benefit Children with Autism in Mainstream Primary Schools?” British Journal of Special Education 26:12-14.
- Iacoboni, M. 2006. “Failure to deactivate in autism: the co-constitution of self and other.” Trends Cogn Sci. 10(10):431-433.
- Leekam, SR, and J. Perner. 1991. “Does the autistic child have a metarepresentational deficit?” Cognition 40(3):203-218.
- Scattone, D, et al. 2002. “Decreasing disruptive behaviors of children with autism using social stories.” J Autism Dev Disord. 32(6):535-543.
- Thiemann, K.S., and H. Goldstein. 2001. “Social stories, written text cues, and video feedback: effects on social communication of children with autism.” J Appl Behav Anal. 34(4):425-446.
- Kuoch, H., and P. Mirenda. 2003. “Social Story Interventions for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities 18(4):219-227.
- Rogers, S. 2000. “Interventions That Facilitate Socialization in Children with Autism.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 30(4):399-409.
- McConnell, S.R. 2002. “Interventions to facilitate social interaction for young children with autism: review of available research and recommendations for educational intervention and future research.” J Autism Dev Disord. 32(5):351-372.
By Lara Pullen, PhD. The information from this page was reprinted with permission from Healing Thresholds. “Copyright (c) 2007, Healing Thresholds, Inc. All rights reserved”
All information, data and material contained, presented or provided here is for general information purposes only and is not to be construed as reflecting the knowledge or opinions of Autism Canada, or as providing legal or medical advice. All treatment decisions should be made by the individual in consultation with a licensed health care provider.