How to Write Social Stories for Children With Autism

Social Stories were first introduced in 1991 by Carol Gray, author and consultant to students with autism. These stories are written and visual guides that describe a situation, skill or concept as well as appropriate social responses and perspectives, according to Gray. The purpose of social stories is to help children with autism interpret social information. When they improve their understanding, they often respond with socially appropriate behaviors.

Elements of a Social Story

Gray outlines a series of guidelines for writing social stories. She explains that these stories need to contain "accurate social information in a patient and reassuring manner that is easily understood." These stories follow a format that includes the use of six basic sentences, which are typically presented in a specific order. Descriptive sentences answer the who, what, where and why questions, and they are objective. Examples of descriptive sentences are, “My name is Craig. I go to Parkplace School.” Perspective sentences refer to feelings, ideas or beliefs, such as, “My teacher likes it when I raise my hand to ask a question.” Directive sentences tell desired responses to the given situation, such as, “When I have a question, I can raise my hand first.” Affirmative sentences are statements that enhance the meaning of previous sentences, such as, “This is very important.” Cooperative sentences identify who can help in a situation. An example is, “My teacher can help remind me to raise my hand.” Control sentences help children apply meaning to the situation or assist with recalling information, such as, “Waiting to speak is like waiting in line at the store.”

Choosing a Goal

Before writing your own social story, consider what you want a child to get out of it. Many children with autism need explicit instructions for how to do things, such as following the leader of a line or playing with peers during free time. You might observe a behavior you wish to address, so consider what a child with autism needs to know to achieve a particular behavioral goal, such as learning when it's appropriate to run or recognizing options for managing anger. For example, if you want to teach a child to raise his hand before speaking in class, you need to explain things like why raising his hand is important, what it feels like to wait his turn or how his peers feel when he speaks out of turn.

Set the Scene

Write an outline of your social story, and consider aspects like setting, who else is in the scene, how long the event lasts and what happens during the situation. You want the story to be brief enough to maintain a child’s attention, but you also need enough detail to accurately describe a situation in a way a child with autism will understand. If your goal was to encourage a child to raise his hand before speaking, you can begin your story with descriptive sentences leading into a sentence like, "In the classroom, the teacher expects students to raise their hands before asking a question." The next part of the story explains that other students are present, and the event includes the child having a thought and deciding to raise his hand to speak out loud. Example sentences include, "My teacher likes it when I raise my hand to ask a question," "Most of the time, students follow directions and raise their hands before they say anything," and "When I have a question, I can raise my hand before I speak."

Edit for Ratio

After writing sentences, identify their types and ensure you use the ideal ratio of sentence types. Gray’s guidelines suggest you use no more than one directive or control sentence in each story, but you should use at least two but no more than five of the other sentences types. You should begin with one to five descriptive sentences, followed by perspective or affirmative sentences. Near the end of your story, introduce the directive or control sentence. Finish your story with an affirmative or possibly a cooperative sentence that solidifies the meaning of the directive sentence. The content must be appropriate for the child’s age and level of understanding, so ask yourself if your sentences are simple and clear. Ensure that all sentences are in the first-person perspective for young children, and use third person for older children and adults. Choose pictures or symbols to accompany some of the text, which is particularly useful for children who have difficulty reading. Rearrange sentences if necessary to ensure the story has an introduction, body and conclusion. Ensure that the story tells what should happen rather than what a child should not do. Give your story a title that shows the overall meaning or objective of the story.