Social Stories for Autistic Students

Understanding and Using Modeling, an Excellent Teaching Tool

Social skills are difficult to impart to many students with autism or Aspergers. The social story has become an excellent new tool for teaching those valuable skills.

One of the central educational issues for autistic students (both in the classroom and at home) is a deficit of social skills. Teaching social skills often becomes a primary focus in working with autistic children. Success in teaching social skills can increase self-confidence and lead to positive results in other areas of the classroom for autistic students.

What are Social Stories?

Modeling is a powerful teaching strategy for children with some form of autism. A social story is a story that depicts some particular social skill being acted out (or modeled).

A good social story will focus on a particular social situation or interaction. A trip to the store, meeting a new person, or going to the school lunchroom with your class – these are all good examples of situations a social story might focus on. The story serves a number of purposes.

  • It provides details and information for the child reading the story – important because autistic children often find social situations confusing.
  • It provides the child with a list of the events and interactions that they will have to negotiate in a particular social setting.
  • It spells out expected behaviors for the child and explains why those behaviors are expected.
  • Sometimes a social story will explain the consequences of not meeting those expectations

The most important aspect of a social story is that it provides an autistic student with a role model. The main character of a social story should be someone the autistic student can identify with. The main character can then model success in a social situation for an autistic child that reads the story.

An Example of a Social Story

As an example of a social story, consider the case of a third-grade student with autism who is having difficulty when his class makes their weekly trip to the school library. One of the teachers who works with the child (probably the special education teacher) could develop a simple, straightforward social story for this child on going to the library. The title? “Bobby Goes to the Library.”

In the story, a student who is approximately the same age and gender as the autistic student in question learns how to go to the library. The story gets shaped around the routine that this particular autistic child has to negotiate through.

By reading this social story several times over the week leading up to the next trip to the library, the autistic student learns what behaviors are expected of him and what behaviors to avoid. Much of the confusion and insecurity that the student was experiencing on trips to the library are now removed.

Particular Social Skills

While a social story is usually designed to address a particular problem situation, children with autism can generalize particular social skills to other life circumstances if the story deals effectively with particular social deficits. Common social deficits to keep in mind include awkwardness, social avoidance, and indifference.

Social indifference, the idea that an autistic child seems not to care about the feelings or opinions of others, is one of the most common social skill deficits for autistic children. Good social stories will provide information about the feelings of other characters in the story and the consequences of ignoring those feelings.

Social avoidance is often a sensory issue. A good social story will incorporate strategies the student uses to cope with sensory problems they encounter. This will vary from student to student. That means that social stories, ultimately, are individualized.

Social awkwardness is often the result of simply not understanding the expectations that a certain social situation includes. Providing information about those expectations helps address that deficit.

How to Write a Social Story

The first thing to remember about writing a social story is that the goal is to help change or moderate a student’s behavior in the context of a larger community. So, for example, in writing the library story described above, the story’s author would probably want to consult the classroom teacher and the librarian during the development of the story. Consultation and team effort on the part of the people who work with the autistic child is key.

A good social story will be written in the first person and in the present tense. For example: “Today I am going to the library with my class. My teachers tell us to line up…”

There should be plenty of descriptive sentences in a social story. For example: “A library is a quiet place. It has lots of books for me to look at.” These descriptive sentences should address all of the basic “w” questions the student could encounter (who, what, where, when, and why).

There should also be statements in the social story that provide a sense of perspective for the autistic student about what he should think and feel. For example: “I like the library. It is a place where I can find books I am interested in.”

Finally, there should be an action sentence that models desired behavior for the student. For example: “I walk quietly to the library.” Or “I sit and look at the book I have chosen.”

Using Social Stories

As an autistic child develops his own personal library of social stories, they should be kept in a place where the child can see them and think about them. A new social story should be reviewed daily with the child until they have mastered the behavior.

Not all social stories are perfect. It may well be that a particular social story does not have exactly the desired effect or address all the necessary elements of a situation. Be prepared to occasionally rewrite a social story to make it more effective.