Melissa Lara, M.A., BCaBA, Behavior Therapist
We often encounter social situations that we take for granted, but that are difficult for children with autism or developmental disabilities. Social stories are a great tool to teach and prepare children with special needs for social situations. Social stories help to make the ambiguity of social situations more concrete. The goal of a social story is to help the individual to better understand socials situations and/or to help prepare the individual for a situation that is new to him or her. Some examples of situations when one might use a social story are: flying on a plane, walking in line at school, picking your nose, wearing a uniform, emotions, hygiene, raising your hand, quiet mouth, etc.
A social story should be written in first person. It should contain descriptive sentences, perspective sentences, directive sentences, and control sentences. A descriptive sentence addresses the where, what, who and why of the situation. Perspective sentences offer insight to the emotions and thoughts of others. Directive sentences prompt the preferred response, which is personalized to the individual. Control sentences are typically used by high functioning individuals and are not always necessary; they are written by the individual for whom the social story is intended.
Parents, teachers, therapists, and caregivers can all write socials stories to help children with special needs better understand socials situations. One can use symbols, pictures, video, story boxes, or just words when writing a social story-get creative and tailor it to the individual! Once you have written the social story, typically it is reviewed daily, and if possible right before the target situation. If you can’t review it right before the target situation when you are first introducing the social story, such as flying on a plane, then reviewing, ensuring understanding and then role playing can be beneficial to the child. It is beneficial to continue with reading and role playing until it is time for the child to go on the airplane. When the day of the plane ride arrives, read or highlight the points of the story before going to the airport and before boarding. After reading the story numerous times with you and practicing and role playing prior, the likelihood that the child will feel more comfortable with the process of flying on an airplane has increased. He or she will have a better understanding of what to expect before the day arrives and will be able to ask questions or receive clarification about any fears or confusion before it is time to ride the airplane.
When the child becomes more successful with the target behavior, the story can be faded out. Stories should be kept for each individual child and reviewed as needed. Again, you don’t have to be a therapist to write a social story-teachers and parents can do it too! Check out the great resources below for some that are already written to use or to help you write your own!
Here is an example of a social story about getting a haircut.
Getting a Hair Cut
I will go to the Hair Dresser to get a haircut.
The person who cuts my hair is called a Stylist.
When I get a haircut I sit in a special chair that turns and moves up and down.
There are sinks for washing hair. I will get my hair washed in the sink. I will try to sit still when my hair is being washed.
The Hair Stylist wraps a sheet around my shoulders so hair does not fall on my clothes.
The Hair Stylist uses scissors and a comb to cut my hair. I need to sit still when the stylist cuts my hair.
After the haircut the stylist brushes the loose hair from my neck. This may tickle a little.
I will look good after my haircut!
Some great resources for social stories: