What are social stories?
Social stories explain social situations to autistic children and help them learn socially appropriate behaviour and responses. 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 and 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 are used to teach autistic children about the social behaviour that’s expected in specific settings like the supermarket, doctor’s surgery, playground and so on. A social story can be created 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 like 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. Social stories do this by explicitly pointing out:
- details about the setting
- what typically happens in that setting
- what actions or behaviour are expected from children in the setting.
This can help children pick up on cues they normally wouldn’t notice. It can also help children manage difficult behaviour and learn new skills.
What do social stories involve?
First, a psychologist or speech pathologist does a thorough assessment of 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.
After a social story is completed, an adult reads the story with the child to ensure the child can understand the story. 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 or learns the social behaviour and does it without prompting from adults, the story can be read less often and 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 consideration is when you use the intervention, rather than how long you use it for.
Anybody who is 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 might be able to include the cost of using social stories in children’s NDIS plans. You can contact the NDIS to find out.
Do social stories work?
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 difficult behaviour than helping them learn particular social skills.
For this technique 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 train you in writing 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 themselves.
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.
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, NDIS early childhood early intervention (ECEI) coordinator or NDIS local area coordinator (LAC), if you have one.
There are many therapies for autism. They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for autistic children takes you through the main therapies, so you can better understand your child’s options.