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Published on August 30, 2022

How to Use Social Stories for Kids with Autism

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How to Use Social Stories for Kids with Autism

Many children on the autism spectrum struggle with social situations in their everyday lives. They have trouble understanding certain behaviors or have difficulty accepting change. Being autistic is not easy but it doesn’t mean we can’t help them.

So, stories are specifically made for autistic children, and these are called social stories.

For these reasons and many more, social stories can be an excellent tool for informing kids about what they can expect in various scenarios and also what might be expected from them by other people.

Let’s start by talking about what social stories and where they came from.

Starting Your Social Stories for Autism

First developed by pediatrician Dr. Carol Gray in the early 1990s, social stories for kids with autism have seen increasing popularity over recent years. There are many social stories to be found and downloaded online at your disposal.

These stories cover topics such as washing hands, dealing with transitions, keeping safe during the pandemic, and much more. The range stretches as long as social stories for kids can be helpful.

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However, creating your own social story from scratch is often the best way of relating to your individual child and telling a story they will truly engage with. This allows for specific scenarios or events that can be added to the story letting your child relate better to the story.

Starting Your Social Stories for Autism

If you’re wondering where to start, this article should help you as we take a look deeper at how you can effectively use social stories for kids with autism.

A social story is quite simply a narrative created to demonstrate specific situations or problems and how people might be able to interact and handle them. For children with autism, social stories are often used to help them understand social expectations, build their communication, adapt behaviors, and accept change. [1]

Social stories for autism allow the children to learn as they read through the materials. It helps them digest social situations that can be normally difficult for them to conceptualize verbally. This becomes a learning experience as if practicing when the real situation comes up.

Social stories are highly visual and are best when they are custom created for specific situations and individual personalities. When writing social stories, it is recommended to include specific step-by-step information for the child to follow.

We will delve into this further below.

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What Do Social Stories Help Children With?

As parents, it’s our duty to teach our children effectively using the best resources out there. Research studies suggest social stories can help children with autism to relate to others and understand what might be best to do or not do when they encounter unfamiliar situations. This prepares your child by processing the best reaction or interaction so that they can carry it out in the right situation.

Social stories can also help kids with autism by:

  • Improving social skills and overall communication among other people.
  • Helping them understand both their own emotions and other people’s emotions.
  • Reducing their levels of anxiety, especially when they are put in the spotlight.
  • Understanding how they can practice self-care and self-appreciation.
  • Working on their behaviors and how they can interact with others.
  • Coping with life changes and transitions such as moving houses or changing personal belongings.
  • Developing and maintaining lasting friendships.
  • Using their imagination to help them explore new things.
  • And much more

How to Write a Social Story for Children With Autism?

Most autism experts would recommend that parents create social stories using the child with autism’s own voice and building from his or her personal perspectives. This makes the social stories for kids more relatable so that they can easily digest and learn from them.

Here are some more tips for creating a useful social story:

  • A good social story should have a specific goal like targeting the desired behavior of the kid(s).
  • A good social story should be factual with lots of information that is centered on the personality of the child.
  • A good social story should easily describe things while following positive language with simple encouraging words.

When you are writing social stories, you should ensure you are using visuals as much as text. Depending on how regularly you want your child to be exposed to the story, you might want to think about using it in the classroom/homeschool, as light reading during recess, or even as a bedtime story.[2]

Types of Sentences for Creating a Top Social Story

According to Autism Parenting Magazine, there are seven types of sentences that are generally used in social stories for autistic children. These sentences can be used as guides on how you can create your own social stories.[3] The types of sentences include:

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1. Perspective Sentences

These are descriptions of the inner facet of another person like knowledge, thoughts, feelings, opinions, beliefs, and motivations including physicality.

  • “My sister likes to run at night.”
  • “My brother doesn’t like horror movies.”
  • “My mom will do anything for us.”

2. Descriptive Sentences

These sentences answer the question of “why” an event or an action is happening. These are real physical sentences that cannot be assumed or filled with opinions.

  • “Children eat fruits and vegetables to get healthy.”
  • “Grown-ups go to work so they can buy stuff.”

3. Directive Sentences

These are sentences that respond to any kind of situation or action positively. These sentences are not consequences but rather a choice of action from doing another action.

  • “I will pray before going to bed every night.”
  • “I will look at both sides when crossing the street.”

4. Control Sentences

These sentences are mostly written by a child after just having heard a story or action. These sentences can be used to help children with autism as a reminder to do an action or set of actions to solve a particular event.

  • “I need to wake up early every day to get to school on time.”
  • “I need to drink milk every night to keep my bones strong.”

5. Affirmative Sentences

These are supportive sentences that can reinforce the meaning of any statement. It also emphasizes an opinion or a value. These sentences add to the gravity of the action and give it more importance.

  • “I will take respect my classmates. It is very important to be nice.”
  • “I will listen to my mom and dad. It is good manners to listen and stay obedient.”

6. Cooperative Sentences

These sentences explain the importance of the roles of other people in an activity or situation. This teaches autistic children to learn that other people are dependable and that they trust them.

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  • “There is a lot to learn in school and lots of things to remember. My teacher can explain these to me so that I can understand.”
  • “There are so many animals in the zoo. The tour guide can introduce me to the animals so I can learn about them”

7. Partial Sentences

These sentences encourage autistic children in looking for the right response to any kind of situation. These are very helpful sentences as the child learns the significance of understanding different social situations and they can be managed.

  • “My sister loves to play volleyball at school.”
  • “My dad loves watching sports.”

General Tips for Using Social Stories for Kids With Autism

Bearing all of the above in mind, here are some more general ideas for parents of kids on the spectrum on how to use social stories to support the needs of an autistic child:

  • Determine which topic can be included in the social story and keep it specific. Avoid adding too many topics and information.
  • To help your child relate more, create your main character with your own child’s features. You can add specific facial or body features or things they’ve done in the past.
  • Always keep the stories in positive behaviors and associate comfort, understanding, and patience. Try to avoid negativity and always create the mood lightly.
  • Separate different concepts in different stories to address every specific need. If there are too many topics in your story, maybe making another story would be a better choice.
  • Observe and consider your child’s mood whenever you tell a social story. They will not always be in the mood to hear the stories so pick your time wisely.
How to Use Social Stories for Kids with Autism

How to Use Social Stories for Kids with Autism

5 Actions
How to Use Social Stories for Kids with Autism
Who Started Social Stories for Kids With Autism? Pediatrician, Dr. Carol Gray in the early 1990s.
How to Use Social Stories for Kids with Autism
Social Stories for Autism is a narrative that demonstrates situations to kids allowing them to handle these situations.
How to Use Social Stories for Kids with Autism
What Do Social Stories Help Children With? It helps them improve their social skills, understand emotions, learn self-care, cope with life changes, use their imagination, and many more!
How to Use Social Stories for Kids with Autism
How to Write a Social Story for Children With Autism? Have a specific goal using facts centered on the child’s personality to describe things in positive language.
How to Use Social Stories for Kids with Autism
Types of Sentences for Creating a Top Social Story. Perspective, descriptive, directive, control, affirmative and partial sentences. 

Summing Up

Social stories for autistic students can be a wonderful tool for helping children to develop their social skills, respond to situations appropriately, and much more. In fact, a 2015 study of 30 children with autism, half of which went through social stories training, showed that those in the group who received a social story exhibited improved social interaction. [4]

Of course, it is always worth bearing in mind that every child is unique, and what works for one young mind might not work for another. Social stories can be great fun to write, though, and are a creative way of learning and growing with your autistic child.

Featured photo credit: Stephen Andrews via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Emily Ansell Elfer

Editor of Autism Parenting Magazine

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