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Social stories

What is a social story?

A social story is a short story that has been written in a specific style and format. It describes what happens in a specific social situation or upcoming event. Social stories can also be used to support teaching new skills such as toilet training or dressing. Social stories present information in a structured and consistent manner, often using pictures or other visuals to support understanding. Social articles can be used with older or more able children. Social articles tend to have a more ‘grown up’ format and may contain more information.

Social stories and social articles provide information through pictures and text, using clear, positive and non-judgemental language. Each story provides meaningful, safe and accurate information about a particular social situation, event or skill. A story will aim to provide important information about context, such as describing what people do, why they do it and what the usual responses might be. It is a way of explaining different social situations, social rules or expectations and social aspects of communication that the child may not understand naturally. A social story can also provide suggestions of how the young person could appropriately behave or respond in these situations, without having to rely on ’telling them’. A social story may also help to reduce anxiety about new places and experiences by letting the child know what to expect.

The purpose of a social story is always, firstly, to try understanding the situation from the child’s perspective. This can help the author work out what information is needed in the story to help the child understand, know what to do or feel reassured. The following are some examples of when a Social Story may be used:

  • to provide positive feedback when your child has done well to help them recognise their own appropriate behaviour. Old stories can be ‘recycled’ into ‘praise stories’ if you’re child has learnt something from a previous story.
  • to help your child understand a problematic social situation for them and provide them with some suggestions for what behaviour or responses might be more effective or appropriate.
  • to help your child become familiar with a new situation, and to respond appropriately.
  • to help prepare your child for a new experience or upcoming event.
  • to help prevent challenging or extreme reactions that stem from a lack of social understanding or a misinterpretation of the situation.
  • to help your child with learning a new skill.

An example of a story for a younger child:

three faces with a shared thought bubble above their heads containing a star

Playing with other children

I am learning about playing with other children. Sometimes I like to play by myself. Sometimes I like to play with other children.

Two faces one is speaking whilst the other listens

If I want to play with someone, I may ask them, “Do you want to play with me? If they say “yes”, I can play with them. This is usually lots of fun!

Lego blocks

If they say “no”, it’s ok. Sometimes this happens. I can try asking someone else to play or play by myself.

I am learning about playing with other children.

Further resources

The National Autistic Society has a page on social stories and comic strip conversations.

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Please note this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s. The details in this resource may not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If you have specific questions about how this resource relates to your child, please ask your doctor.

Resource number: NDS9

Resource Type: Article

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