How to Use Social Stories To Make The Upcoming School Year A Success

This week, we’re revisiting Sarah C.’s previous blog post about social stories with an update about how social stories can be used to support your child as they start school this fall.

If you’d like to learn more about social stories, check out Sarah C.’s original post here.

What are social stories? Social stories are short stories that are designed to help children understand expectations, rules, routines, and social norms.

Social stories are a powerful tool for helping your child anticipate what is expected of them in a variety of situations, and helping them to adjust to changes in their daily life.

The best thing about social stories is that they can be customized to each individual child and anyone can make them! They are often made by members of a child’s therapy team (speech-language therapists, occupational therapists, teachers, ABA therapists, etc.), but parents and caregivers can make them, too!

How do I make a Social Story?
Social stories can be very short, simple, and straightforward. You can make a social story using a program like Microsoft Word. To be effective, the social story must include information provided by parents/caregivers, and any other relevant individuals involved in the targeted scenario (e.g. teachers, therapists, other family members, etc.). It is important to gather accurate information about the situations and expectations outlined in the social story. Use a title that clearly labels the topic of the story (for example, “My New Classroom”).

  • Write the story in first person, as if your child is talking about the rules or routine. This helps your child internalize the story and use it as a script in real-life scenarios. For example, you might start a social story about a new classroom by saying “This fall, I will go to school at Orchard Ridge Elementary School. My teacher’s name will be Mrs. Jacobsen. She is really nice and she will help me to learn lots of new, exciting things this year.”
  • Use short, simple sentences, especially for younger children or children with limited language skills. If your child is older or has more developed language skills, it is ok to use longer or more complex sentences, but it may be easier to remember the concepts in the story if you stick with shorter, simpler sentences.
  • If there are rules you would like your child to learn for a particular situation or routine, include sentences that clearly state what your child is expected to do and when. For example, you might say something like “When it is time for lunch, I need to line up at the door and wait quietly with my friends. While I am waiting in line, I will keep my hands at my sides or in my pockets. I will not touch or shove the people around me. I will keep my eyes on my teacher and will listen to her instructions.”
    It can be helpful to include sentences about what will happen if the rules are or are not followed. For example, “If I follow these rules for standing in line, my teacher will feel happy and proud. My friends will also feel happy and will like being around me. I will be a good role model for my friends. If I don’t follow these rules, it might take longer to get to the cafeteria for lunch. My teacher and friends might feel mad or annoyed.”
  • Include sentences about how your child might feel in the scenarios you’re targeting, as well as strategies your child can use to deal with those feelings appropriately. For example, you could say things like “I might feel nervous on my first day of school. It is ok to feel nervous! If I am feeling nervous, I can take deep breaths, ask my mom for a hug, or tell a teacher how I am feeling. I can ask my teacher if I can take a quiet break. I will probably feel less nervous as the day goes on and as I meet new friends.”
  • Be sure to include fun, colorful pictures in the story! This will provide your child with visual cues in addition to verbal cues (i.e., the written text). You can use clip art or illustrations, but it may be helpful to use real-life pictures of your child and the people and places you’re writing about. For example, you could include a photo of your child, their new teacher, their school, their classroom, their desk, and different areas within their school.
  • Social stories should be read and reviewed in a positive, comfortable, reassuring context. They should be used to help a child develop positive ideas about a scenario and how they can react. Social stories should NOT be used as a punishment or a consequence for misbehavior.

Try out a social story for back to school! You may be surprised by how motivated your child is to help you create the story, then read it over and over. If you’re feeling stuck, your therapy team at CI is always happy to help out. We’d also love to see the stories you create so we can incorporate them into your child’s treatment sessions!