Social stories are carefully designed short stories that help children with autism understand new social situations. These social situations can include any type of interaction involving other people such as riding a school bus, visiting the dentist, or ordering food at a restaurant. Research indicates that these stories help children with autism develop an accurate understanding of new social situations (Gray, 1995).
Children with autism often have difficulty reading other people’s facial expressions and feeling empathy for others and this results in significant deficits in social skills. Research confirms that children with autism have difficulty with social interactions and that these difficulties fall into three types:
- Social recognition related to a lack of interest in others
- Social communication including difficulty expressing one’s self and understanding body language
- Social imitation and understanding including difficulty understanding thoughts and feelings of others (Wing, 1988).
Social stories are an effective strategy for identifying challenging situations for a child with autism and preparing the child to manage and understand the situation including the who, what, when, where, and why of a social situation (Lorimer, Simpson, Myles, & Ganz, 2002). Gray and Garand first wrote formally about social stories in 1993, and they define Social Stories as “a social learning tool that supports the safe and meaningful exchange of information between parents, professionals, and people with autism of all ages (carolgraysocialstories.com).
For parents, teachers, and practitioners it is important when telling a social story to keep in mind that roughly 50% of a social story involves applauding achievement and that the social story being told should be customized to fit the needs and abilities of the child. Gray (2003) emphasizes that Social Stories need to be customized for each child and should have four types of sentences: descriptive, directive, perspective and affirmative. It is also important to include visual elements in a Social Story that is shared with a child with autism. Children with autism have challenges in processing auditory information, but can be strong visual learners.
A substantial body of research has been conducted related to the effectiveness of social stories over the past few decades and the criteria for developing effective social stories, while still focused on the original ten components, has been updated twice to reflect recent research and best practices. The complete criteria for creating Social Stories is listed below (CarolGraySocialStories.com).
Social Stories 10.2 (2014) Criteria:
- The Social Story Goal. Authors follow a defined process to share accurate information using a content, format, and voice that is descriptive, meaningful, and physically, socially, and emotionally safe for the Audience.
- Two-Step Discovery. Authors gather information to 1) improve their understanding of the Audience in relation to a situation, skill, or concept and 2) identify the topic and focus of each Story/Article. At least 50% of all Social Stories applaud achievements.
- Three Parts and a Title. A Social Story/Article has a title and introduction that clearly identifies the topic, a body that adds detail, and a conclusion that reinforces and summarizes the information.
- FOURmat. The Social Story format is tailored to the individual abilities, attention span, learning style and - whenever possible – talents and/or interests of its Audience.
- Five Factors Define Voice and Vocabulary. A Social Story™/Article has a patient and supportive “voice” and vocabulary that is defined by five factors. These factors are: 1) First- or Third-Person Perspective; 2) Past, Present, and/or Future Tense; 3) Positive and Patient Tone; 4) Literal Accuracy; and 5) Accurate Meaning.
- Six Questions Guide Story Development. A Social Story answers relevant ’wh‘ questions that describe context, including place (WHERE), time-related information (WHEN),relevant people (WHO), important cues (WHAT), basic activities, behaviors, or statements (HOW), and the reasons or rationale behind them (WHY).
- Seven is About Sentences. A Social Story is comprised of Descriptive Sentences, as well as optional Coaching Sentences. Descriptive Sentences accurately describe relevant aspects of context, including external and internal factors, while adhering to all applicable Social Story Criteria.
- A GR-EIGHT Formula. One Formula ensures that every Social Story describes more than directs.
- Nine to Refine. A story draft is always reviewed and revised if necessary to ensure that it meets all defining Social Story criteria.
- Ten Guides to Implementation. The Ten Guides to Implementation ensure that the Goal that guides Story/Article development is also evident in its use. They are: 1) Plan for Comprehension; 2) Plan Story Support; 3) Plan Story Review; 4) Plan a Positive Introduction; 5) Monitor; 6) Organize the Stories; 7) Mix & Match to Build Concepts; 8) Story Re-runs and Sequels to Tie Past, Present, and Future; 9) Recycle Instruction into Applause; 10) Stay Current on Social Story Research and Updates.
Research indicates that Social Stories can be an effective intervention in many types of social situations including:
- Reducing aggressive behavior (e.g. Adams et al., 2004; Cullain, 2000; Kuoch & Mirenda, 2003 as cited in Ozdemir, 2010)
- Teaching adaptive skills (Barry & Burlew, 2004; Brownell, 2002 as cited in Ozdemir, 2010)
- Teaching social skills (Feinberg, 2001; Ozdemir, 2008a; Tierman & Goldstein, 2004 as cited in Ozdemir, 2010),
- Increasing appropriate behaviors (Agosta, Graetz, Mastropieri, & Scruggs, 2004; Cullain, 2000; Graetz, 2003; Kuoch & Mirenda, 2003, Smith, 2001 as cited in Ozdemir, 2010),
- Increasing the use of appropriate social skills (Barry & Burley 2004; Hagiwara & Myles, 1999; Pettigrew, 1998 as cited in Ozdemir, 2010),
- Increasing greeting behavior and initiation of play activities (Feinberg, 2001 as cited in Ozdemir, 2010)
- Increasing on-task behavior (Brownell, 2002 as cited in Ozdemir, 2010)
- Increasing appropriate meal-eating behavior (Staley, 2001 as cited in Ozdemir, 2010)
- Decreasing precursors of tantrum behaviors (Simpson & Myles, 2002 as cited in Ozdemir, 2010).
Social Stories are a proven strategy that works especially well with children with autism. Typically developing children often intuitively figure out how to read a room or behave appropriately in new and familiar situations, but children with autism often find social situations confusing and difficult to navigate.
Heather Dorn, MS BSBA, has created a series of Social Stories for Stages Learning Materials.
- Going to the Doctor Social Story
- Going to the Dentist Social Story
- Following Game Rules
- Getting Hurt
- Getting Sick
- Going to an Assembly
- Doing School Work at Home
And more coming soon!...
- Getting a Haircut
- New Sibling Social Story
- Riding the Bus Social Story
- Riding in a Plane Social Story
- Bed Time Social Story
- Starting School
- Community and Street Safety Social Story
- Going to the Potty Social Story
- Brushing Teeth Social Story
- Washing Hands Social Story
- Getting Dressed Social Story
- Taking a Bath Social Story
- Going to the Grocery Store Social Story
- Going to a Restaurant Social Story
This article was adapted from information on Carol Gray’s website: https://carolgraysocialstories.com/
The updated 10 Criteria listed above is from https://carolgraysocialstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Social-Stories-10.0-10.2-Comparison-Chart.pdf
Other research articles consulted and cited in this article include:
Gray, C. (1995). Teaching children diagnosed with autism to “read” social situations. In K. Quill (Ed.), Teaching children with autism: Strategies to enhance communication and socialization, pp.219-241. Albany, NY: Delmar.
Gray, C. and J. Garand (1993). Social Stories: Improving responses of students with autism with accurate social information. Focus on Autistic Behavior, 8, pp. 1-10
- Kuoch, P. Mirenda (2003). Social Story interventions for young children with autism spectrum disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 18, pp. 219-227.
- Adams, A. Gouvousis, M. Van Lue, C. Waldron (2004). Social story intervention: Improving communication skills in a child with autism spectrum disorder. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 19 (2), pp. 84-87.
Khantreejitranon, Angkhana (2018). Using a social story intervention to decrease inappropriate behavior of preschool children with autism. Kasetsart Journal of Social Sciences, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp. 90-97
L.M. Barry, S.B. Burley (2004) Using social stories to teach choice and play skills to children with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 19, pp. 45-51
P.A. Lorimer, R.L. Simpson, B.S. Myles, J.B.Ganz (2002). The use of social stories as a preventative behavioral intervention in a home setting with a child with autism. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 4 (1), pp. 53-60
Wing, L. (1988). The continuum of autistic characteristics. In E. Schopler & G. B. Mesibow (Eds.), Diagnosis and assessment in autism, pp.91-110. New York Plenum Press.