Social Stories – Part 1

You may have heard of a type of story called a ‘Social Story‘. Social Stories are a specific type of story originally developed by Carol Gray, who has spent many years working with children with autism. Social Stories were specifically designed fro children with autism in mind, however can be successfully applied to all children.

Social Stories are a very useful tool to describe a situation, a tricky or foreign concept or teach a new skill. The most distinguishing element of the Social Story are its 10 criteria. The ‘New Social Story Book’ by Carol Gray discusses these criteria, and gives people a chance to develop their own Social Stories, as per the criteria, to ensure they are written and targeted in the correct way.

Three of the 10 criteria, and some brief details around these criteria, are discussed below. It is important that to ensure a story is a true Social Story all of the below criteria are addressed. In this post, the audience being discussed are children, however Social Stories can be effective for adolescents and adults as well.

There is a lot to be discussed with Social Stories and rather than cover it all now, we will discuss it in three parts. As such, we will discuss the first 3 criteria of Social Stories below, and cover the following 7 in subsequent blog posts.

1. “One Goal”: Social Stories are used to share accurate information through a story. The story must be meaningful, and convey concepts that are safe (physically, emotionally and socially) to connect with its audience. Stories are written in a way that they are to be reassuring. The safety comes in the form that a situation must be written as ‘safe’ so that a child can experience that situation (based on the story) and use their skills to achieve a desired outcome. The story is not designed to change behaviour, rather to up skill and share information with a child about what may be a challenging skill, behaviour or situation. In this way improvements in an area are largely due to a child’s better understanding of expectations or the specifics of an event.

2. “Two Part Discovery”: This is important, as the information to be discussed must be accurate and safe. In ensuing this can be provided, an author must ensure they are gathering relevant information. To best do this, an author must try and put themselves in the shoes of the child, to see how the child is perceiving such a skill or concept. It is important to gather as much information on a generalised topic area first, before deciding on a specific topic or title of the Story.

It is also important here to consult other important people involved in making the story (i.e. teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists) so there is continuity, or opportunities to review the content. When people writing the story get a picture of what the skill involves and how a child may feel in that situation, one can then often discover a specific topic.

It is always important to consider that when discovering topics, that ensuring at least half of the stories to be read are giving praise to positive things the child is doing. For example, adding detail and extra weight to positive skills, such as ‘saying thank you’, are just as important as working on skills that are challenging, e.g. how to ‘try and be friendly to people in my class’. As such, Social Skills can add further meaning and detail to something positive, that may be taken for granted by adults and children.

The information gathering is described to have three parts; 1) is objective information – these are fact oriented and describe a situation, skill or concept. (e.g. discussing ‘going to the shops’ – Each week I help mum do the shopping for the family). 2) Looks at ways to process this information – this includes problem solving a situation, such as relying on past experiences or give strategies to reduce anxiety and gain some control of a skill/situation (e.g. using the shops example – At the shops I can help mum by carrying the shopping bags when we get out of the car. This is my job). 3) Looks at what has happened, what is happening, and what may happen in the future. It is often the time that the story draws on past experiences, to make sense of what ‘may’ happen (e.g. Mum often gets me to help her find the bread. I may have to look for bread in the bread area. There may be lots, or there may be none).  

3. “Three parts and a title”: Like any story, in addition to a clear and specific title, a Social Story requires a beginning, middle and end. Topic sentences are important to introduce a story, to gain the child’s attention and begin a topic. The body adds further weight and description to what has been introduced, and the conclusion reinforces what has been discussed. In this way, we se that these three elements are required to effectively convey and guide the development of an appropriate and effective Social Story to the child.

The above is a short summary of the first 5 steps of Social Stories, to provide further insight into the specific nature of how a Social Story is constructed. For more detail and further information, The New Social Story Book, by Carol Gray, provides examples of Social stories and further ideas to work on, to support children through the use of Social Stories.

We will continue Part 2 of Social Stories, covering Criteria 4-5, in a subsequent blog.

*’The New Social Story Book’ (2010) by Carol Gray, Future Horizons, was used in collecting some of the information for this blog post. 


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