Social Stories – Part 2

In this post we will continue looking at Social Stories, focusing on criteria 4-5. If you haven’t already had a read through Social Stories – Part 1, follow the link to find out the first steps of developing Social Stories, before continuing with Part 2.

We have established a title, goal, skill or concept and general theme for the story in Criteria 1-3. Now, we will focus on Criteria 4-5, and here we will go deeper into increasing the engagement and relevance of the story, for a specific child.

4. “FOURmat”: This is one of the most important aspects of a good Social Story. As mentioned in out previous post, a good social story should ring true to an individual child. The FOURmat section refers to the actual formatting of the story. This includes how it is organised, written, illustrated and its overall presentation. As you could imagine, depending on your audience, you can greatly customise your story to suit the child. This level of individualisation can enhance a child’s ability to engage with the story, and be motivated to read and re-read.

If we look further at the format, we need to firstly consider the age and the ability of the child. If for example we have an 8year old child, we can assume that more text could be included, with more and longer sentences. Comparatively, if we wanted to write the same themed story for a younger child, say 5 years, we would need to reduce the text to key words, short sentences and explicit and instructive images. As younger children often do not have the attention span of older children, shorter stories are also going to be more adopted and understood. It is a general rule for Social Stories written for younger children, that there are 3-12 short sentences.

Shorter stories are often harder to write. Carol Gray talks about the difficulty between covering the topic well, and keeping things brief. A way to counter this is to get all the ideas written down first, then shorten sentences to meet the audience. For older children, it is okay to have more detail, and many topics are more complicated or more detailed, as a child get older. As such, meeting the format for the audience.

Another handy tool is utilising repetition, rhyme and rhythm. These can be effectively used to capture the attention of the child. They can also be effective in providing routine and predictability in a story,  for those that also like this in their day to day lives. Rhythmic and repetitive phrasing, such as ‘When I am in the car, I can read my book, I can play with my toy, I can look out the window’. This sentence is repetitive, but is very clear and simple. However, this may not suit all children, but is rather a handy addition to those that would respond well to repetition or rhyme in their stories.

All good and engaging children’s stories have some form of illustration, and so it is just as important to have illustrations for Social Stories. Illustrations can be drawings, photos, charts or even in more modern and interactive Social Stories, videos. These video ‘illustrations’ are also aligned with Video Modelling, which can function in a similar way to Social Stories.

The main point of illustrations is to add value. If they mislead, cause confusion or are ambiguous, they are likely to reduce the value of the story. Detail, or lack of detail is also important. Some images may be too descriptive and be taken ‘literally’ by a child, while others may need very specific images, as they want the skill completed in a specific manner.

In either case, an effective strategy is to use photos. Here a specific child, setting or action can be clearly demonstrated. As per the image below, if you go to the same hairdresser, take a photo of your hairdresser and the chair.

Whether images, graphs, photos or videos are used, it is important to make sure that the illustrations are specific to the child and meaningful to them. It is important to determine if the child understands the illustration format, if it has worked previously, if they have shown an interest and engagement in a specific type of illustration, or if a combination of types would work best? Answer these, and you’re on your way to making a very customised and engaging story.

5. “Five factors define voice and vocabulary”: As the title suggests, the ‘voice’ of the story sets the tone, tense and perspective. This ties in with the previous criterion, FOURmat, and further individualises the story.

1) Perspective is a crucial element, and many Social Stories are deliberately written in first person, as if the child reading the story is ‘living’ the event or situation. Again, caution must be heeded by the author here, as putting in ‘generalised’ statements is not advisable. Again, it is important to ensure the author thinks through the eyes of the child. It is acceptable to add in or write the story in third person voicing, if it is for a more advanced audience (e.g. older children and adolescents).

2) Positive language must be used in a Social Story. This is most relevant when describing behaviours. In focusing on the positives, Social Stories ensure they keep the self-esteem of the child safe.

The story may focus on a general negative behaviour, rather than specify the child as the only person who engages in that behaviour (e.g. ‘all children find it tricky to sit on the mat sometimes’). Having a positive tone, with clear and descriptive behaviours or solutions to situations, allows children to learn skills, rather than being told what not to do.

3) Deciding on the tense (past, present, future) will depend on the situation/skill or behaviour. Past tense is often effective as a format to ‘draw on’ previous experiences and aim to adapt. These previous experiences often provide support for future predictions. As such, as social story may combine past, present and future tenses all in one story.

4) Ensure when writing the story that phrases and sentences are accurate and written in a way that the desired meaning is obvious. This leaves little room for mis-interpretation. If metaphors or analogies are to be used, ensure they are specific to the story or child, or are being described and explained within the story itself.

5) Vocabulary is important in Social Stories, and the author must ensure the words used in the story are the most accurate in conveying the desired message. Positive tone is important, therefore, positive verbs should be used (e.g. ‘I will raise my hand and wait my turn to speak’, rather than, ‘I won’t call out’). Also, verb specificity, often overlooked, must be included (e.g. ‘Mum will let me get a lolly from the shop’ suggests that this can be taken from the shop Instead stating ‘Mum will let me buy a lolly from the shop’ clearly distinguishes purchasing).

Also mentioned is the use of words that may generate emotional reactions (e.g. change, new, different). Hearing ‘We will be living in a new house’ may be distressing. As such, alternate words could be used to describe the topic (e.g. ‘We will be living in another house). In this way you can select the most comfortable vocabulary for the child.

*’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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