Social Stories for Autistic Children – How They Can Help

Social Stories for Autistic Children

Social stories are a tool commonly used by parents, caregivers, and educators to help autistic children develop social skills and expected behaviors. They use simple language and visuals to explain social situations, concepts, behaviors, events, or activities.

The purpose of social stories is to provide clear, concise information about what to expect in a specific situation and why. They help autistic children better understand the perspectives of others. Social stories break down social nuances and unwritten rules that may not come naturally to those with autism.

The benefits of using social stories for autistic children include:

  • Improving social skills, communication, and appropriate behavior
  • Reducing anxiety around social situations
  • Increasing independence and self-confidence
  • Helping transitions and changes in routine go more smoothly
  • Teaching everyday social skills and norms
  • Explaining abstract concepts in a concrete way
  • Helping generalize skills learned to other environments

By using social stories consistently, parents and educators can provide autistic children with the support and information they need to navigate social situations successfully. Social stories are an effective, evidence-based tool for building social competency.


Creating Effective Social Stories

Social stories are most effective when tailored specifically for the individual child’s needs, interests, and abilities. Here are some key elements to include when creating a personalized social story:

  • Focus on one social situation or behavior. Don’t overload the story with too many concepts. Narrow in on the specific context the child struggles with.
  • Use positive language. Emphasize the desired responses and actions, rather than telling the child what not to do.
  • Keep sentences short and clear. Use language the child understands. Avoid complex words or abstract concepts.
  • Include visual supports. Pictures, drawings, icons, etc. enhance understanding and engagement.
  • Describe expected behaviors. Explain the appropriate social rules and responses for the situation simply and literally.
  • Speak from the child’s perspective. Write sentences from their point of view using “I” statements.
  • Explain the rationale. Help the child understand the reason behind the expected behavior.

For example, a story about waiting patiently in line could say:

“I will keep my hands to myself when I stand in line. This helps other kids feel happy. The teacher will call my name when it’s my turn.”

Or a story about responding to teasing may include:

“If someone calls me a name, I will stay calm. I will say ‘Please don’t call me names.’ Then I will walk away and tell the teacher.”

Tailoring the content and tone to suit each child’s unique needs is key for an effective social story.


Visual Aids in Social Stories

Visual aids are a crucial component of effective social stories for autistic children. They help reinforce the narrative and concepts in a more concrete way that aligns with the visual learning strengths many autistic kids possess. Visuals also help hold attention, break up blocks of text, and make the stories more engaging and enjoyable.

There are numerous types of visual aids to incorporate into social stories:

  • Photos – Real pictures of the child, relevant people, and settings/objects can help make the stories feel personalized and relatable. Use pictures the child is familiar with.
  • Drawings – Simple drawings or stick figures depicting behaviors and concepts can be useful visual representations without being overstimulating.
  • Icons – Repeated use of icons, like a lightbulb for ideas or a stop sign for stopping, can help reinforce connections.
  • Diagrams – Visual sequences showing steps of a situation or process flowcharts can illustrate abstract concepts.
  • Charts – For social rules or steps, visual charts add helpful structure.
  • Graphic organizers – Timelines, Venn diagrams, and other organizers simplify complex ideas.
  • Color coding – Using color systematically to highlight different components can help with processing.

The key is choosing visuals that simplify and illuminate the narrative, not distract from it. For example, a story about greeting people could show the child’s photos waving hello or icons demonstrating smiling and frowning faces. Keeping visual aids clear, consistent, and tied directly to the narrative improves comprehension.


Implementing and Using Social Stories

Social stories should be introduced and reviewed at times when they are most relevant to the child. For example, review a social story about sharing toys in the morning before a playdate or right before going to a park. The more consistently social stories are reviewed, the more effective they will be.

It’s important to sit down with the child and read through the entire social story at first. Then review the story periodically, at least a few times a week. If a challenging situation is coming up, review the related story right beforehand as a reminder.

When reviewing the story, gauge the child’s interest and comprehension. Ask questions and discuss the story to check understanding. Provide positive reinforcement when the child remembers and can explain the main points.

To make social stories more effective:

  • Keep the stories readily available and accessible for the child to review independently whenever needed.
  • Consider making a customized “social story notebook” that compiles relevant stories for the child to reference.
  • Remind the child about using an applicable social story when challenging situations arise.
  • Praise progress when the child demonstrates proper social behavior after reading a related story.
  • Update stories over time if they are not achieving the desired outcomes.
  • Involve caregivers, teachers, and other adults in reinforcing social stories when possible.

With consistent use and review of personalized social stories, they can become an invaluable tool for improving social skills. Check-in periodically to ensure the stories are working and adjust as needed to help the child learn appropriate behaviors.


Troubleshooting Challenges

Introducing social stories can be difficult at first. Many children with autism will resist or reject them. Consistency and persistence are key to overcoming these hurdles. Here are some common challenges and solutions for troubleshooting problems with social stories:

Child refuses to read or listen to the story – Make the story more engaging by incorporating the child’s special interests. Use visuals and simple language. Keep the story short. Read it yourself or use another engaging voice like a family member.

The child loses interest – Keep the story concise. Use highly preferred interests to maintain motivation. Re-read a favorite story if needed before introducing new ones. Offer reinforcement like a preferred treat or activity after reading.

The child does not understand the story – Evaluate your vocabulary and sentence structure. Simplify language and reduce length if needed. Increase the use of visuals. Act out scenarios in the story. Explicitly discuss the story’s meaning.

The child does not generalize the story – Increase practice reading the story across different settings. Prompt them to use the skills from the story throughout their routine. Reinforce when they apply the story. Fade out the story gradually.

No improvement in target behavior – Re-assess if you have identified the right target behavior. Check that the story clearly explains the behavior expectations. Ensure you are consistently reading and reinforcing the story. Be patient – behavior change takes time. Seek additional professional support if needed.

Remaining consistent with social stories takes concerted effort, but is essential for overcoming challenges. With persistence and creativity in engaging the child, social stories can become an invaluable tool for improving social skills. Progress may seem slow, but the ultimate payoff of social stories makes the effort worthwhile.


Social Story Examples

Social stories can cover a wide range of topics and situations that children may find challenging. Here are some examples:

Greeting Someone

Hi, my name is Sally. When I see my teacher or my friend David at school I say “Hi David!” or “Good morning Ms. Jones!”. Saying hello makes them feel happy. Saying hello is a nice thing to do. I will try to say hi to people when I see them.

Lining Up

At school, we line up to go to different places like the library or the cafeteria. When the teacher says it’s time to line up, I will walk over and find my place in line. I will keep my hands to myself and stay in my spot. Standing in line quietly shows I am ready to go. Taking turns and lining up helps everyone get where they need to go.

Doctor Visits

I am going to the doctor’s office today. The doctor needs to check that I am healthy. The doctor will use instruments to look at me. Some things might feel cold or strange but the doctor is helping me. Staying calm and still helps the doctor do her job. The doctor’s visit will be over soon. Visiting the doctor keeps me strong.

Hand Washing

Washing my hands helps keep me healthy. I wash my hands with soap and water after I use the bathroom before I eat when my hands are dirty, and after playing outside. I turn on the water, rub soap on my hands to make bubbles, scrub for 20 seconds while singing the ABCs, then rinse off the soap. Washing all the germs off my hands stops me from getting sick. Clean hands mean I’m doing great!

Tidying Up

It’s time to clean my room before bedtime. I will start by picking up my toys and books and putting them neatly away on the shelves. Next, I’ll make my bed nice and smooth. Then I’ll put any dirty clothes in the laundry basket. Finally, I’ll make sure the floor is free of clutter. A nice tidy room helps me relax and sleep well. I did a great job cleaning my room!


Expanding Beyond Social Stories

Social stories are a great visual aid for teaching social skills, but they’re not the only option. Other visual aids like visual schedules, social scripts, comic strip conversations, and social autopsies can also be very helpful for autistic children.

Visual schedules use pictures to outline the steps of an activity or daily routine. They help kids know what to expect throughout the day and can reduce anxiety around transitions. Social scripts are similar, using pictures and short phrases to model appropriate social interactions.

Comic strip conversations use simple drawings to illustrate a conversation and explain the perspectives, thoughts, and emotions of the different people involved. This helps kids understand the nonverbal cues and subtext of interactions.

Social autopsies are completed after an upsetting event or social mishap. Together the child and parent review what happened using pictures and words to analyze the situation and determine better responses for next time.

These visual aids are great to use together with social stories. For example, a social story could introduce a new situation or skill. Then a social script or comic strip conversation could provide examples of applying that skill. Or if a child struggles with a situation even after reading the social story, a social autopsy could help reinforce the appropriate response. Using multiple visual supports provides repetition and addresses different learning styles.


Social Skills Development

Social skills are crucial for autistic children’s development and quality of life. While many autistic children struggle with social communication and interaction, social skills can be learned and improved with the right strategies. This is where social stories play an integral role.

Social stories provide a low-pressure way to teach various social rules, behaviors, and concepts. The stories break down complex social information into smaller, more manageable parts. They walk through social situations in a concrete, structured manner using a child’s perspective. This allows autistic children to better understand the nuances of social interaction.

However, social stories should not be the only technique used to develop social skills. They work best when combined with other evidence-based methods like video modeling, peer mediation, and group skills training. Social stories lay an important foundation, but children need opportunities to practice skills in real-world scenarios.

Parents and teachers should provide guided roleplay after reading social stories to help generalize the lessons. Over time, autistic children can better apply the social knowledge from stories to daily life. Social skill groups allow for rehearsal and feedback. With this multifaceted approach, social stories create awareness while other methods shape the actual skills.

The ultimate goal is to improve autistic children’s social reasoning, conversation skills, emotion regulation, friendship skills, and perspective-taking. Social stories introduce these concepts, but functional practice makes the skills stick. This combined effort helps autistic children build the social competence needed to socially communicate, play with others, make friends, and develop relationships. But it all starts with that first step of understanding through social stories.


Finding Resources and Support

There are many resources available to help parents and caregivers create effective social stories for autistic children. Here are some of the top resources:

  • The Gray Center Dr. Carol Gray is the creator of Social Stories. On her website, you can find training, workshops, and tools to help write social stories. They also offer consultations and certifications.
  • Autism Speaks – This autism advocacy organization provides a guide to social stories with examples and tips. They also have a tool to help you build custom stories.
  • Autism Society – The Autism Society has sample social stories and information about how to implement them effectively. They also list local chapters that may provide training.
  • Autism Classroom Resources – Find nicely designed, customizable social story templates here. They also share tips on writing effective stories.
  • Autism Parenting Magazine – This magazine provides social stories for free on topics like making friends, hand washing, and more.

Connecting with local autism organizations, schools, and professionals can also provide training and assistance with implementing social stories effectively. Many autism therapists and counselors are experienced in using them as well.



Social stories can be an incredibly helpful tool for children with autism. By providing a structured narrative around social situations and expectations, social stories help teach appropriate responses, behaviors, and social skills. Children can better understand social cues and expectations when presented in a clear, concise format with visual supports.

The benefits of implementing social stories include reduced anxiety around social situations, improved behavior and social responses, and an overall increase in social skills. Social stories tap into the tendency for routine and consistency that many autistic children respond well to. They provide a predictable framework that sets children up for success.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *