Social stories can be extremely effective tools for supporting social behaviours in children with Autism, ADHD, developmental delays and other additional needs. And let’s face it, the Internet is FILLED with social story options to teach a wide range of social skills and routines. But did you know that not all social stories are created equally? There is a great deal of structure and wording that goes into an effective social story. And as dedicated teachers, we want to be providing the highest quality, most effective resources that we can for our students to give them the best chance of success. So how do we choose a ‘good’ social story? What elements do we look for? Keep reading as we dive into this below:
What is a Social Story?
Social stories are simple stories that explain social situations. Invented by Carol Gray, Social stories were originally developed to explain social situations to autistic children. Over time, it has become clear that social stories can benefit children with a whole range of diverse needs, including ADHD, developmental delays, intellectual disability and behavioural challenges.
A key feature of social stories is that they present information visually, either through using photographs, images or free drawings. This visual presentation is so helpful for children. A verbal message that we provide is soon lost but a story with pictures remains long after our verbal message is gone, allowing kids the opportunity to internalise the messages in their own time and space.
Note: The term ‘Social Story’ is copyrighted by Carol Gray and this refers to a specific, ten-step structured story. You may also see other terms, such as ‘Social story’ (without the capital ‘S’), ‘Social Narratives’ or ‘Social Scripts’ which are similar resources.
Who Benefits From Social Stories?
Social Stories can be effective for so many children. Social stories can be introduced as early as the toddler years and are widel used in early intervention. Preschool children can also benefit from social stories, particulary to support early friendship making skills and self-help skills. Social stories are a wonderful tool to support the transition to school process and well into the primary school years. Even in highschool, social stories, when presented in an age appropriate way, can be great tools for teaching life skills, abstract social skills and can support transition into the workforce and beyond.
What Can Social Stories Help With?
Social stories can help toddlers, primary school children and even highschool children with a wide range of different behaviours and skills, including:
What Should I Look For in a Social Story?
Social stories come in all shapes and sizes and are widely available all over the internet. Some are free, some come with a cost. How do you know if you have snagged a high quality, evidence-based social story that will provide the best possible chance of supporting your students? Here are my top criterion for narrowing down the field!
1.Choose Social Stories with Positive Language:
The goal of a social story is to ultimately provide guidance and insight as to what they can expect in a social situation and what is expected of THEM in a social situation. Therefore, the language focus should be on what SHOULD happen, rather than what should NOT happen.
Think about it. If you want to learn how to change a tyre, are you going to Google ‘How to Change a Tyre’ or are you going to Google ‘How to NOT Change a Tyre’? If you Google the later, you will end up with a lot of confusing, irrelevant ideas about tyres which will clog your memory and cognitive load. Not to mention wasting a lot of your time and attention!
For the best results, choose social stories that use positive words. Sentences like ‘I can have safe hands and feet’ is far more powerful than ‘I will not hit’.
2.Choose Social Stories with ‘Descriptive’ and ‘Directive’ Sentences:
When considering whether you should purchase a social story or not, be on the look out for two distinct types of sentences:
(i)Descriptive Sentences: are truthful and are free of opinions and assumptions. In other words, they state the facts. An example of a descriptive sentence might be “I am in year 3. My teacher is Mrs Smith’. Descriptive sentences help to set the scene for the social story. Descriptive sentences should make up the majority of the sentences in your social story (think 2-5 Descriptive Sentences for every one Directive Sentence).
(ii)Directive Sentences: these are to be used sparingly in your social stories. These sentences suggest a response or provide a choice of responses for the student, something like ‘When I feel frustrated, I can try to be calm’.
3.Social Stories Must Allow Room for Error:
No one gets something right 100% of the time! And we should carry the same philosophy for our students. So, instead of writing ‘I will be calm when I am waiting my turn’, which leaves NO room for error, we add words like ‘try’, ‘might’, ‘can’ to allow for this. The sentence might read ‘I will TRY to be calm when I am waiting my turn’.
4.Social Stories Should Express a Shared Opinion or Reassure the Student:
Social stories introduce an often unknown ore new situation for your student so it makes sense that reading through it may cause some initial anxiety. With this in mind, it is important to include shared opinions in the social story to reassure your student that these new concepts that you are introducing are ok. This may be something like ‘I might feel worried when I can feel a poo starting to come out. This is ok. Lots of children feel worried about their poos’.
5.Personalise the Social Story:
Every child is induvial and their social stories should reflect these unique strengths and interests. We also know that if something is personalised, your students are much more likely to engage with the story and attach meaning to it. So when you’re deciding whether a social story is worth the investment, look for the ways that you can potentially edit or personalise the story. Can you easily add your child’s photo? Can you add information about them? Is there a space to write their name? These are all simple ways that you can boost the meaning of the social story.
As dedicated teachers, your time and money is valuable and whilst the internet is brimming with social story options, it is clear that they are not all created equally. By reflecting on the content of the social story and the value that it contains, you can feel confident that you are choosing resources that will give your students the best chance to thrive.
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