By Raising Children Network
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At a glance: Social Stories™
Type of therapy
The claim
Improves understanding of concepts, skills and situations, often resulting in more effective responses
Suitable for
People with ASD
Research rating

Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.

Research shows positive effects.

Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration.

0-10 This therapy initially involves daily use. Gradually, the daily time commitment decreases as new behaviour is learned. Because it is a preventative approach, the emphasis is on the timing of the intervention rather than its duration.

Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week.

Visit the Autism Service Pathfinder to browse Service Providers information.

About this intervention

What is it?
Social Stories™ are highly structured interventions that use stories to explain social situations to children with autism. They also help children learn socially appropriate behaviour and responses.

Who is it for?
Social Stories™ were initially developed for use with children with autism. They are now also being used to help other children with learning and intellectual disorders.

Social Stories™ might be less effective for children with poor comprehension skills. For this reason, the language used in each Social Story™ should match the age and skills of the child.

What is it used for?
Social Stories™ are used to teach children with autism about appropriate social behaviour in specific settings, such as the supermarket, the doctor’s surgery, the playground and so on. A Social Story™ can be created for almost any social situation.

Where does it come from?
Social Stories™ were developed in 1991 by Carol Gray, a teacher working with young children with autism.

What is the idea behind it?
People with autism often misunderstand or don’t pick up on social cues such as body language, facial expressions, gestures and eye contact. Social Stories™ were developed as a way for children to learn how they should behave in social settings by explicitly pointing out details about the setting and what typically happens in that setting. These details help children pick up on cues they would normally overlook. Social Stories™ aim to increase social understanding by answering the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions.

At first, this therapy doesn’t require the child to socially interact (and practise what they learn). This means that Social Stories™ can be less threatening and create less anxiety for children with autism than some other interventions.

What does it involve?
First, a psychologist or speech pathologist performs a thorough assessment of the child to identify key areas of concern and get details about when and where problem behaviour usually happens.

The therapist then writes a Social Story™ based on a particular area or situation of concern. The tailor-made story is written in the first or third person and can be written in past, present or future tense (‘I go to the shop’, ‘We sit in the waiting room’). The story is usually presented in a book format to match the child’s vocabulary and comprehension skills. Photos or illustrations can be used if they enhance the story. Sometimes Social Stories™ can be presented in the format of a rhyme, or the words can be put to music.

Once a Social Story™ is completed, an adult reads the story with the child at least twice, to ensure the child can understand the story.

Parents and teachers help the child apply the lesson by reminding the child of the story’s key points, if necessary. For example, ‘What does the story tell us to do?’

Once the child understands the social situation, or learns the social behaviour and does it without prompting from adults, the story can be read less often and gradually phased out.

The Social Stories™ developed can be delivered in different ways, depending on the child’s capabilities. For example, if the child has difficulty reading, the story can be recorded and played as the child reads along. If the child can’t read, the story might be video-recorded with scenes acted out (this is called a Storymovie™).

Cost considerations
Anybody who is trained can write Social Stories™, so the cost can be quite low. Parents need to go to training sessions or buy the training material to learn the program, such as the Social Stories™ manual, The New Social Story Book 10th Anniversary Edition (2010) by Carol Gray. Parents might also want to buy other resources to help develop Social Stories™. The cost of these will vary. State autism associations might also have these materials for parents to use or borrow free of charge.

The costs of therapies such as Social Stories™ might be covered for up to 20 sessions by Medicare. Whether the cost is covered will depend on the professional providing the consultation, and you’ll need a referral from your GP.

Some private health care funds might cover a portion of the consultation fee. This can be claimed immediately if the provider has HICAPS.

Does it work?
Quality research shows that this approach has positive effects on the behaviour of children with autism. But some recent research has questioned how effective the approach is.

Who practises this method?
Anyone trained in the program can develop Social Stories™. Some professionals might also be able to train parents in constructing Social Stories™ for their child, and advise them on the best way to deliver stories – for example, by reading them aloud, making videos or having the child read them silently.

Parent education, training, support and involvement
Parents are often directly involved in delivering the intervention by reading Social Stories™ to their child. Parents might also need to remind the child to use these new skills in social situations, and are responsible for rewarding their child for putting the new skills into practice. With training, parents can also create their own Social Stories™.

Where can I find a practitioner?
Contact the autism association in your state or territory and ask them to recommend a service or practitioner.

Alternatively, some psychologists and speech pathologists who work with children have experience using Social Stories™. You can find psychologists on the Australian Psychology Society search page and speech pathologists at the Speech Pathology Australia website.

  • Last updated or reviewed 12-09-2012