Social stories are short stories that are designed to help children understand expectations, rules, routines, and social norms. They 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!
Do they work?
Yes! For many kids, social stories are a fun, motivating way to learn about rules, expectations, and routines.
- Kids often love seeing pictures of themselves and the people and places they know in the stories.
- Social stories give kids simple, straightforward information about what is expected of them.
- Because kids often enjoy reading the stories over and over again, social stories give caregivers and service providers fun, repetitive opportunities to review and practice the concepts in the stories.
- Because the stories are often written from the child’s perspective and are reviewed frequently, kids are better able to internalize the information in the story and use it as “script” that can help them stay calm and know what to do in the situations and routines targeted in the social story.
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 you 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.
Examples of Topics for Social Stories:
Be creative! You can make a social story for any situation in which you feel your child needs help learning or remembering rules and expectations. They can also be useful in helping your child adjust to changes in their family or daily routine.
Some examples include:
- Birth of a sibling
- Moving to a new house, city, or state
- The start of a new school year
- Getting along with friends, classmates, or family members
- Going on a trip
- Staying with grandparents or other family members while their parents are away
- Going to the doctor’s office
- Potty training
- Interacting safely with their own or others’ pets
- Crossing the road safely
- Going to the store
- Going to a movie or a play
- Following the rules in a game or sport
- Being a good sport
- Doing homework
- What to do if lost
- What to do if there is an emergency (medical emergency, fire, tornado, etc.)
- Swimming lessons
- Going to summer camp
- When a friend moves away
Social Story Example: Staying Safe at the Pool
Swimming is fun!
When it is time for my swimming lesson, I go to the pool with my mom or dad.
When I enter the pool area, I need to use walking feet. I hold mom or dad’s hand while I walk to the pool.
The ground near the pool can be wet and slippery so it is not safe to run. I walk so I don’t fall.
Sometimes I like to play with toys in the pool. When I go to swimming lessons, I leave my toys on the edge of the pool so they don’t get lost or in the way. My toys wait outside the pool until I am done with swimming lessons. I get them again when my swimming lesson is over.
It is safe to get into the pool with my swimming teacher. If my swimming teacher is not in the pool, I will wait outside the pool. If I want someone to catch me, I will say “ready?” and wait for them to say “yes.” I can jump to them when they tell me they are ready.
During my lesson, I use whole body listening. I will face my teacher and keep my eyes on her. I will keep my lips quiet. I will listen to my teacher and do what she asks me to do.
When I listen to the teacher, it keeps my body safe! My parents and my teacher feel happy and proud of me when I listen and keep my body safe. I feel proud too!
Way to go!