By: Kyle Mutch, M.S., CCC-SLP

We’ve all witnessed a child throwing a tantrum or having a meltdown at school, the grocery store, an airport, or a birthday party. Maybe there were unexpected changes, such as a substitute teacher, the class going on a field trip, the store ran out of a desired item, there was a long line, or a classmate was playing with their preferred toy. These are common examples of situations when a child can become overwhelmed and frustrated. A popular preventative tool, especially for children on the autism spectrum or kids with additional developmental disabilities, are SOCIAL STORIES.

What are social stories?

Social stories make learning a skill easier for children. For kids who are visual learners, this is a great way to tap into the child’s strengths! Social stories visually help children work through a problem situation and identify solutions.  These stories are meant to analyze a social situation and support the child in determining appropriate and inappropriate responses/behaviors. Social stories are meant to be specific, meaningful, and focus on different skills necessary for a child to manage problematic situations.  They are perfect for children who have difficulty dealing with change or who benefit from knowing what is going to happen next. 

How to Use Social Stories

Social stories can be adapted and personalized for YOUR child and YOUR situation! Each story is written and created with input from the child and family. The stories can be relatively easy to make too. A simple social story can be created with pen and paper, stick figures, and a few speech/thought bubbles in less than 10 minutes, but I recommend putting something more formal together. Smartphones have made it very convenient for taking photos that can be easily uploaded and turned into a social story.  My go-to is creating a PowerPoint. It is a user-friendly program for uploading photos, adding text, and creating speech and thought bubbles. Younger children may also benefit from real photographs that are more concrete, whereas paper and pencil work well with kids who understand more abstract visuals.

Social Story Framework

Now let’s get into the framework of a social story. The title of the story should be related to the overall takeaway point for the child. The beginning of the social story answers the following “wh” questions: 

  • Who is the story about? 
  • Where does it take place? 
  • When is this happening? 
  • Why does this happen?  

In the middle of the story, explain the expected behaviors, thoughts and feelings of the characters, and possible outcomes. Wrap up the story by restating the key point and emphasize how everyone is feeling. 

Below are some additional suggestions to help make the social story successful for your child:

  1. Begin with a social story that describes a skill the child does well. Make it full of praise and bring attention to their positive behaviors. We want to build up their self-esteem before we target an area that is challenging for the child. 
  2. Use positive language as much as possible when describing responses and behaviors. 
  3. Be creative and add in their favorite television or movie characters to make it more fun and motivating.
  4. Go through the story when the child is relaxed and calm. Avoid sharing the story when the child is upset or frustrated. 
  5. Share the story with the child but also with others to help encourage carryover and generalization of the story across different settings and communication partners. 
  6. Increase the time between readings to gradually fade the book out.  
  7. Bring the book with you to situations that likely challenge the child’s communication skills. 

Contact us with questions about social stories or to determine if they are an appropriate tool for your child!