Helping all children become happy learners
Social Stories are short narratives designed to help children remember desired behaviours. They can be presented in written language, through picture symbols or a combination of both. Carol Gray is credited with having originated the concept of a Social Story and continues to develop and conduct research around their use and effectiveness. The term 'Social Story' is protected by a trademark and therefore refers exclusively to the narrative scripts which are written following the rules and principles set out by Carol Gray. However, the term 'Social Story' has become a label loosely used to describe any narrative reinforcing a social rule or behaviour.
Though Social Stories were originally devised to support children with autism, they are now used to help children with a wide range of behavioural, emotional and social needs.
Writing a Social Story
Social Stories are usually written in the first or third person and provide information on a very specific context. They tend to describe how the individual may feel in the context and how others may react to them. They usually list helpful and supportive strategies to avoid conflict or other unwanted behaviours and consequences.
Social Stories can sometimes be made to fit on cards that can be carried by the child. Where the child can not or has difficulty reading, pictures or symbols are used. Good practice is for an adult to read through the social story with the child just before the situation or activity that may present difficulties. For example, where a child is having problems at playtime an adult can rehearse the social story just before they go out each day.
Social stories should ideally be written:
with the child
using age appropriate vocabulary
in positive language
to reinforce desired behaviours or outcomes
to support the child's emotional well-being
in addition to other provision to support behaviour
Using we instead of I
Carol Gray describes the use of I when writing social stories. However, there is also an argument for using 'we' instead. 'We' communicates the idea that experiences are shared with others. The argument that autistic struggle with 'theory of mind' and don't readily recognise their inclusion in the concept of 'we' is, in my view, even more reason to use it. Thus by using 'we' it is reinforcing this concept of shared experiences. 'We' is also powerful in communicating that the individual is not alone in experiencing anxieties and fears or needing support.
Social Story Examples
A range of examples are available.
Effective Social Stories
Social Stories must feel:
Descriptive rather than prescriptive
Informative rather than persuasive
Safe, reassuring and supportive
Social Stories should:
Answer the what, when, where, why and how questions
Reflect the child’s knowledge and experience of the social context
Be written in first or third person
Use precise vocabulary, avoiding ambiguity and the potential for misunderstanding
Social Stories often have a format that includes:
a descriptive title
an introduction that defines the topic in general terms
a main body that give details and personalised examples
a final affirmative statement that summarises the information
Carol Gray described four sentence types that are needed:
These describe the context and state the facts
These describe how others are affected or think or feel about the context
These describe a preferred behaviour, response or reaction
These build on the descriptive and perspective elements in the social story justifying the directive sentence or describing the outcome from achieving it.
Effective Social Stories
This is a handy prompt sheet with advice for writing your own social stories.
Social Story Sentence Types
Advice on using a range of sentence types defined by Carol Gray in her work on developing social stories. An example social story is given to illustrate the different types of sentence that she suggests should be included.