There was a time in my career that I didn’t know what a social story was, but today I can’t imagine working without them. The concept of a “social story” was developed by Carol Grey, in 1991. She was an educator specialized in children with autism. More recently, she opened the Grey Center for Social Learning in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Children with Autism often have difficulty picking up, and understanding social cues. They may also struggle with perspective taking. So, simply reading a book about “Johnny sharing his toys”, is not enough. To the child with autism, it stinks to be Johnny, but the lesson on sharing toys is lost. So, all social stories follow a similar formula. One of the most important aspects, is that the story is written in the first person. When the story is read, the “I” is easily understood by the child with autism, and the child develops a meaningful connection to his own life. The stories are easily adapted to role play, so the child can also practice responses.
Most stories will start with a problem. The story will describe social cues about the “I” character and others. It will often describe the targeted behavior as well as proposed alternative behaviors. They can be very simple in nature for young children, or more complex for older children. There is no subject that is taboo. While Carol Grey has a library of social stories she has written, it is easy to write your own. The formula goes something like this:
It is hard to wait. (The problem is identified)
When I have to wait my turn during recess, I get mad. (The negative behavior is described)
Sometimes I cry and try to go to the front of the line. My classmates get mad at me when I try to cut in line. (The social cue is given.)
This is not OK.
I will look at my Pokemon cards while I wait. (The alternative behavior is given.)
I will watch the other kids while I wait. When I watch the kids I understand what to do. Waiting is hard but my friends are happy when I don’t cut the line.
(The social response is described)
I watched my friends and now I know when to kick the ball.
When I wait my turn, my friends and teacher are happy.
I’m happy too, because I learned something new. (The internal feeling is described)
Everyone has to wait sometimes!
I’ve written social stories called “Coats in the winter”, “Farts are Gross” and “It’s not OK to Throw Pencils”. Thankfully I’ve used many from a free sharing website, called SpeakingofSpeech.com These can be found under their shared material link, and cover topics such as tantrums, potty training, nose picking and “going bowling”. I nd them useful not only with those on the Autism spectrum, but with many children with sensory processing, regulation difficulties, behavioral issues and anxiety. Any diagnosis in which the child has difficulty understanding the non-verbal social cues can benefit from planned and scripted social skills until higher level skills develop. Then get out there and get social!