It is hard enough to get kids to do what we ask them to do, but it can seem downright impossible when there is a communication barrier. There is something that will help! You can create social stories.
What is a Social Story?
Social stories are useful teaching tools for helping children with developmental disabilities to navigate the world around them. Almost any skill, from putting on socks to riding on the subway, can be taught using a social story.
When to Use Social Stories?
Any area of difficulty can be the basis for a social story. You can use social stories in a variety of situations such as:
- Aiding in transitions
- Explaining unfamiliar events
- Breaking down a target behavior or skill into easy-to-follow steps
- Describing social scenarios
- Teaching routines
Social stories are great visual cues. Children and adults with developmental disabilities rely on visual cues to learn and generalize many occurrences that we, who function typically, take for granted.
Social Story Example
For instance, a child with autism may have an extreme love for baseball. But the anticipation of visiting the local baseball stadium to watch a game in person causes him severe anxiety.
Addressing this child’s apprehension about seeing a baseball game will need to feature a series of unique steps formed into a story supported by pictures. Additionally, more than one social story may be necessary.
If the child is nervous about the car ride to the baseball stadium, that would be another area of need for a separate social story.
How to Easily Write Social Stories to Successfully Teach Children
Usually, professionals such as teachers, psychologists, or behavioral specialists write and implement social stories. However, anyone can write one when supplied with guidance and the tools to do so.
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The following is a list of guidelines to make social story writing easier:
1. Make the Title Specific
The title should precisely state what the social skill is about. Based on the above example, the social story’s title to help a student tolerate going to a baseball game would be something like “Going to a Baseball Game” or “I am Going to a Baseball Game!”
2. Each Event Should Have Its Own Social Story
It is crucial to be hyper-focused on one event at a time. That will mean careful consideration about what to put in each social story.
3. Use Pictures to Support the Text
Pictures or photographs help draw the child’s eye to the story. But they also provide contextual meaning to the words in the social stories. There is no right or wrong here. Use what will help the child attend to the story. In the baseball example, a photograph of the actual baseball field would be beneficial.
4. Keep the Format Simple
Remember your audience and that each child has different needs. Ideally, you should organize a social story. An uncomplicated format would include:
- Limited text on each page
- Fewer colors
- Simple fonts
Keep in mind that you want the focus on the context of the social story. Therefore, limit other distractions as much as possible.
Depending on the social story’s length, you may want to consider modifying it into book form. Using full, half, or quarter pages will depend on your determination of the most effective story presentation.
5. Break Down Social Stories
Typically functioning adults and children can perform each part of a multi-step task, even when only implying those steps. A great example of this is hand washing.
How to Break Down Handwashing into Steps
- Turn on a faucet
- Put their hands underneath the water
- Get soap
- Rub their hands together
- Rinse their hands with water
- Turn the water off
- Get a paper towel
- Wipe their hands until they are dry
- Throw the paper towel in the garbage
A student learning this skill may need specific directions. Consider each part of a task when writing a social story, even the parts that seem apparent.
6. Describe What the Child Should Say
You should add appropriate or expected responses to social stories. Sometimes children need specific “lines” to recite to add to their social repertoire for an event.
You can prompt the child to say, “Play ball, strike 3,” and other baseball terms that will enrich his baseball game experience in the baseball scenario.
7. Include Feelings and Reactions
It is essential to reassure the child that certain feelings or reactions to an event or skill are natural and expected. A statement such as, “It is ok for me to use my outside voice when I am at the baseball stadium,” affirms the notion that being loud is characteristic of being at a baseball game.
You should also include emotion regulation techniques that the child has successfully used if things do not go as planned, such as, “If I start to feel worried about going through the stadium gate, I can take deep breaths and think about how much fun I will have watching the game.”
Additionally, sentences that describe the feelings, thoughts, or moods of others encourage the child’s confidence in their ability to make good choices. For example, “My parents will be so proud of me for using my strategies and watching the baseball game with them!”
8. Simple and Positive Language
Assume that the child you are writing the social story for is a literal thinker. Thus, the language used should be on point and positive. You should write social stories in the first person, present tense. Writing the story from the perspective of the child will help him relate to the story.
Simple and Positive Example
“Baseball is my favorite sport! Today I am going to the B-Met’s stadium to watch a baseball game in person! I am so excited!
Tips to Best Use Social Stories
Writing a social story to help children manage their social, behavioral, or skill challenges is a rewarding experience. As a parent or caregiver, you have the advantage of knowing your child’s strengths and needs and what strategies work best in challenging situations.
After writing the social story, here are some additional tips for successful implementation:
#1 Introduce the Social Story Ahead of the Event
Read it over with your child as often as they like. It can replace a bedtime story or be the first thing you read to them in the morning. The more familiar your child is with the steps in the task, the better.
#2 Practice Patience When Writing and Implementing Social Stories
Remember that some tasks, as well as behavioral and social skills, are shaped over time. A child’s first experience brushing their teeth, going to a restaurant, visiting the doctor, or going to a baseball stadium will not be flawless just because you wrote a social story for it.
#3 Be Flexible
Be open to the notion that you may need to tweak the social story to address some issue you had not anticipated.
For instance, say you buy noise-canceling headphones for your child to have a better experience eating out at a restaurant. You should also consider whether they can tolerate having the headphones on their ears for any length of time.
This could be the basis for a prerequisite social story about using headphones appropriately when the environment is noisy.
#4 Ask for Help
Consult teachers and other professionals if you need help outlining your child’s social story. You can use some social stories across environments, such as between school and home.
For example, shaping a particular behavior, such as self-injurious biting, can be reinforced in more than one setting. Consistency in using a social story in these cases is crucially important.
Additional Resources to Foster Your Child’s Developmental Skills
Overall, writing a social story can be a significant undertaking. The guidelines I’ve shared are those I have used as a special education teacher with my students. As with any competency, time and experience are essential. Above all, enjoy the process of helping your child. Learn from your child, enjoy your time together and enjoy creating lasting memories.
Have you tried using social stories with your child? Share your experience in the comments.
Here are additional resources to help your child:
- Assistive Technology Ideas in the Special Needs Home
- How to Meet a Child’s Sensory Needs at Home
- The Surprising Benefits of Reading 20 Minutes a Day
- How to Help Your Kids Follow a Schedule
Do you have a child that needs more one on one assistance?
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