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There are a number of ways to focus on social skills and develop social understanding for individuals on the autism spectrum. Social stories are an excellent and simple method to facilitate the understanding of appropriate social interaction and responses. They can also be used to prepare individuals for change, describe abstract concepts, and be used to give praise. For instance, a social story may be used to describe something new in a child’s classroom, or a change in routine.
Social stories are easily produced, focus on real life situations and can be used repeatedly, as and when required. The stories are based on a written story form, but can contain visuals to help with understanding. They offer the individual with autism information on what is going to happen, information on a particular social situation, and focus on who is performing certain actions and why they are performing those actions. Stories can provide time and place related information about when and where things might happen. A story can focus on particular areas of need such as social skills or communication, and can also provide the individual with autism with some socially appropriate responses.
How to Write Social Stories
The story is pitched at a level that the individual can understand and contains different types of sentences:
Descriptive Sentences – these sentences state facts, they are logical and objective, and form a guide to the story. Some examples of descriptive sentences would be:
- Sometimes, dad drives his car to work (it is important to use words such as “sometimes” and “maybe”, so that statements are not taken literally).
- My brother’s name is Bob
- On Tuesday we usually go shopping
Perspective Sentences – these are sentences that describe feelings, thoughts, beliefs, opinions, a persons health etc and most often they are used to describe other people, not the person with autism.
- Some of my friends like to play basketball
- Some of my friends think Arsenal football team are the best
- Simon believes in tooth fairies
Directive Sentences – these sentences look at responses to a situation to guide the individual with autism. Again, we must be aware of being too literal. Examples of these sentences would be:
- I will try to whisper in class
- I may ask mum for a drink
- I will try to eat my own sandwiches for lunch
Affirmative Sentences – these are often used to stress an important point and enhance the meaning of other sentences. The following sentences might follow other types of sentences:
- This is good
- This is very important
- This is a good thing to do
Cooperative sentences – these sentences discuss how others might help you. Cooperative sentences may facilitate an individual to understand who, and how, someone can help them in some way:
- The sports teacher can help me with my football skills
- Mary the teacher aid will help me use the toilet
Control Sentences – these sentences are statements from the individual with ASD, who adds his own information when the story is written to reflect his own feelings and interests. For instance, if John has a social story about when to take time-outs, he can add a sentence:
- If Brian screams I can take timeout in the quiet room
When you want to write a social story, decide on the goal of the story and plan it out, taking care to choose an appropriate title. Try and tailor the story to the language level of the individual with autism, but also keep it simple anyway. Use positive language and identify positive responses, and be aware of statements that may be taken literally. Add things that may motivate or interest the reader and if possible involve him when you are writing it. An important rule is that there should only be one directive sentence (if any), for every 2-5 descriptive, perspective and affirmative sentences.
Social Story Example:
My mum is having a baby
- Sometime soon, my mum will have to go to hospital to have a baby (descriptive)
- Mum will stay in a ward at the hospital where the nurses will look after her (descriptive)
- Mum might be in hospital for a few days and then she will come home with the baby (descriptive)
- When mum is away my dad will look after me (descriptive)
- Dad will make all my food (cooperative)
- Dad might take me to the hospital to visit mum (descriptive)
- When mum comes home she will bring my baby sister (descriptive)
- My baby sister will be very small (descriptive)
- Sometimes my baby sister might cry (perspective)
- When my baby sister cries I can go to my room for a break (directive)
Other tips when writing social stories
- Use words such as “sometimes”,”maybe”, “usually” etc when stating when things will happen. For instance if you state “Swimming is on Wednesdays”, some individuals will believe that swimming happens every Wednesday, even it is Christmas day. However, if you state “Swimming is usually on Wednesday”, there is then room to change things.
- Be careful about instructions that you give. For instance if you say “always listen to an adult” – this theoretically could lead to problems as not all adults are positive role models.
- Be careful when writing social stories that you are not over specific. For instance, if you write a social story for a student that is hitting other children, and you state in your story – “I will not hit other students in the playground”, the student may interpret this as – I can’t hit student’s in the playground, but it is okay to hit them in other places.
- Be careful not to create bigger behaviour problems by offering rewards. For instance, if you say “if you stop screaming I will let you play with lego”, the student may then see that screaming is a way to get to play with lego, and the behaviour may increase.
For more information about autism and other communication difficulties, and ideas and strategies to help communication, see our Resources, or for specific fact-sheets with helpful hints about Autism go to the Autism Downloads section.
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