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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 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:
Research indicates that Social Stories can be an effective intervention in many types of social situations including:
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.
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
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.
Leslie Stebbins has more than twenty-five years of experience in higher education with a background in library and information science, instructional design, research, and teaching. She has a Masters in Education from the Technology Innovation & Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Masters in Information Science from Simmons College. For twenty years she created and led information literacy and research skills programs for students and faculty at Brandeis University. Currently she is the Director for Research at Consulting Services for Education (CS4Ed). Her clients both at CS4Ed and as an independent consultant have included Harvard University, the California State University Chancellor's Office, the U.S. Department of Education, Facing History and Ourselves, Tufts University, and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. She is the author of numerous articles and four books including Finding Reliable Information Online: Adventures of an Information Sleuth. For more about Leslie visit LeslieStebbins.com.