Social Stories™

Social Stories™

What are Social Stories™?

Social Stories™ use stories to explain social situations to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and help them learn socially appropriate behaviour and responses. These stories are sometimes called social scripts, social narratives or story-based interventions.

Who are Social Stories™ for?

Social Stories™ were initially developed for use with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They're now 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 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) 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 often 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 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What is the idea behind Social Stories™?

People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) 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 by explicitly pointing out details about the setting and what typically happens in that setting. These details help children pick up on cues they normally wouldn't notice.

At first, children don't need to interact socially and practise what they're learning. This means that Social Stories™ can be less threatening and create less anxiety for children with ASD than some other interventions.

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.

The therapist then 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. It's usually presented in a book format and can include photos or illustrations. Sometimes Social Stories™ can be written as a rhyme, or the words in the story can be put to music.

Once a Social Story™ is completed, an adult reads the story with the child at least twice, 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 have difficulty reading, stories can be recorded and played as children read along. If children can't read, stories might be video-recorded with scenes acted out (this is called a Storymovie™).

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.

Cost considerations

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. You also need a referral from your GP.

Some private health care funds might cover a portion of the consultation fee. This can be claimed immediately if the provider has HICAPS.

Do Social Stories™ work?

Quality research shows that this approach has positive effects on the behaviour of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

For this technique to work, it's important that the stories are highly individualised to chidren'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 silently.

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 partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child's options.