What are social stories?
Social stories explain social situations to autistic children and help them learn ways of behaving in these situations. These stories are sometimes called social scripts, social narratives or story-based interventions.
Social Story™ and Social Stories™ are trademarks originated and owned by Carol Gray.
Who are social stories for?
Social stories were initially developed for use with autistic children. They’re also sometimes used to help other children with learning or intellectual disorders.
Social stories might be less effective for children with poor comprehension skills, and they might not be suitable for non-verbal children.
What are social stories used for?
Social stories can help autistic children learn about social behaviour in specific settings like the supermarket, doctor’s surgery, playground and so on. You can create a social story for almost any social situation.
Social stories are used together with other therapies.
Where do social stories come from?
Social stories were developed in 1991 by Carol Gray, a teacher working with young autistic children.
What is the idea behind social stories?
Autistic people often misunderstand or don’t pick up on social cues that other people notice – for example, body language, facial expressions, gestures and eye contact.
Social stories were developed to help autistic children learn ways of behaving in social settings. Social stories do this by explicitly pointing out:
- details about the setting
- things that typically happen in that setting
- the actions or behaviour that are typically expected from children in the setting.
This can help children pick up on cues they normally wouldn’t notice and learn how to respond to these cues. It might also help children learn new skills for social situations.
What do social stories involve?
First, a psychologist or speech pathologist assesses an individual child to identify key areas of concern.
Next the therapist 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 the past, present or future tense – for example, ‘I go to the shop’ or ‘We will sit in the waiting room’. The story is written using language to match the age and skill of the child. The story can be a print book or an ebook. It can include photos or illustrations.
When a social story is ready, an adult reads the story with the child to ensure the child can understand it. Typically, the stories are read just before the event they describe. For example, each morning a parent and child might read a story about what to do in the school playground, and the teacher might also read the story with the child just before the child goes out to play.
Parents and teachers help the child practise by reminding the child of the story’s key points. For example, ‘What does the story tell us to do?’
Once the child understands the social situation, children can read the story less often and it can be gradually phased out.
Children can experience social stories in different ways, depending on their capabilities. For example, if children aren’t yet reading, you can read stories to them or record stories and play the recordings as children read along.
Social stories involve daily use to start with. Gradually, this approach takes less time as children learn new behaviour. Because this is a preventative approach, the key thing to think about is when you use the stories, rather than how long you use them for.
Do social stories help autistic children?
Research shows that social stories can have positive effects on the behaviour of autistic children. Research also suggests that they might be more effective at helping children manage their behaviour than helping them learn particular social skills.
For social stories to work, it’s important that the stories are highly individualised to each child’s needs and that they’re used at the right time for individual children.
Who practises this method?
You can read Carol Gray’s The new Social Story™ book or use online resources to learn how to write social stories.
Professionals like psychologists and speech pathologists can teach you how to write social stories for your child. They can also advise you on the best way to deliver the stories – for example, by reading them aloud, making videos or having your child read them.
Where can you find a practitioner?
Some psychologists and speech pathologists who work with children have experience writing and using social stories. You can find these professionals by going to:
- Australian Psychological Society – Find a psychologist
- Speech Pathology Australia – Find a speech pathologist.
You could also talk about this therapy with your NDIA planner, early childhood partner or local area coordinator, if you have one.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If your child is using social stories, you’re usually directly involved in reading the stories to your child. You might also need to remind your child to use new skills in social situations, and you’re responsible for rewarding your child for putting the new skills into practice.
You can also create your own social stories.
Anyone who’s trained can write social stories, so the cost can be quite low. You can even create your own social stories.
The costs of seeing therapists like speech pathologists to get help with developing social stories might be covered for up to 20 sessions by Medicare. Whether the cost is covered depends on the professional providing the consultation.
Some private health care funds might cover a portion of the consultation fee. This can be claimed immediately if the provider has HICAPS.
You can contact the NDIS to find out whether you can include the cost of using social stories in children’s NDIS plans.
Therapies and supports for autistic children range from behaviour therapies and developmental approaches to medicines and alternative therapies. When you understand the main types of therapies and supports for autistic children, it’ll be easier to work out the approach that will best suit your child.