Social Stories were developed by Carol Gray in 1991. Social stories can be used to help someone understand what is going to happen and behavioral expectations. A social story can be used for every day events as well as special events. Special events can be both exciting as well as anxiety producing. As an example, I will reference the annual Fairy Tale Ball at The Urbana Free Library. If a child wanted to attend, but was afraid things would be too noisy, or the puppets scary, I could write a social story for that child.
My first step in writing a social story is gathering information. The most important information is about the person. What is the age and name of the child? What are the concerns? How does the child respond to things? Who is attending with him or her? Once I know about the person, I need to gather information about the event. In order to do that I would consult the event flyer and contact someone at the library for more information. (Hint: If you are nervous about calling a place, trying writing yourself a little script.) I would ask the library questions about the puppet show and noise levels. They might be able to tell me everything I need to know, but if they cannot, then I would try to contact the performer(s) directly. Once I have gathered all the relevant information about the event, I can start to structure my story.
First consider the main goal. Using my example above, our main goal is to prepare for the puppet show and provide guidance for the child if it seems scary. A secondary goal is to describe what the event will be like. For a young child, I would use the first person:
I will go to the fairy tale ball at the library with my mom on Friday. Many people will be there, and some people will be dressed up in costumes. Once we get inside the library, my mom will take me upstairs to watch the puppet show. If possible we will sit on the aisle, but those may already be full. The puppets will be small. Sometimes the puppets will say or do things that are mean and scary, but there will be a happy ending. If I get too scared during the puppet show, I should whisper this to my mom. My mom will take me to go do something else. It is normal to feel scared. My mom will be proud of me when I tell her how I feel.
For some people, this will be the right level of description. Others may need much more and you can also incorporate pictures, maps, and other visual supports.
The story should always have something positive in it. Focus on the positive desired behavior and not on what you want to avoid. Validate the person’s feelings.
Add a descriptive title and introduce the story.
Social stories can be combined with other methods of previewing events and planning behaviors. Other things to consider include videos, modeling, and role playing. Whenever someone behaves as directed by the social story, reinforce the behavior with a lot of praise. These methods are helpful for many individuals, not just children with autism. The most important thing to consider is customizing the story to the needs of the individual.
Here are a couple more resources on Social Stories: