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Social stories

What are social stories?

Social stories area a personalised, visual approach that:

  • Describe a social situation or context in a way that helps people with developmental disorders (often Autism) to understand
  • Helps a child or young person to make sense of social situations, routines, the meaning of language and the unwritten social rules
  • Helps a child or young person to understand what behaviour is expected and why it is important

How do social stories work?

A social story is made up of several different types of descriptive sentences:

Setting the scene

These use descriptive sentences.

For example: ‘At school we sometimes line-up. We line up for PE, to go outside and to go for dinner.

Explaining the problem

These also use descriptive sentences.

For example: ‘sometimes my friends and I get excited when we line up, because we’re going somewhere fun like out to play’

You can then focus on some other perspectives such as ‘Why do we need to do it?’

For example: ‘It is ok to get excited but it is important to try to walk in the line. Running can cause accidents and my friends or I could get hurt.’

Highlighting the solution

What do you want the child or young person to do? Use some coaching sentences.

Focus on one thing that you want your child to do differently

For example: ‘I will try to walk in the line’.

What happens when the child or young person tries to do the new thing?

For example, ‘My teacher will feel proud when I walk in the line’ or ‘I will get a sticker when I walk in the line’

Information:

Top tip – Only use one coaching sentence.

The social story

  • The social story could be written on one page or in a book format.
  • It should be supported by pictures, if possible, photos of the situation.

Introducing the social story:

  • Before developing the social story, talk to the child or young person about how the Social Story will work, such as ‘You know that sometimes we get too excited and don’t walk in line? Well I’ve got a story to help us to remember why it’s important to walk in line. Shall we find out?’
  • Read the social story through together.
  • Talk about the social story to check the child understands the content and link it to their own behaviour or situation to ensure the social story is meaningful.
  • Encourage the child or young person to take ownership of the story – if they can prompt them to read it and share it with other significant adults and peers.

When should we use a social story?

  • Choose a time when the child or young person is calm and engaged to introduce and read the social story through for the first time.
  • Find a consistent time to go over the story, such as daily before the situation occurs.
  • Once the social story is mastered, keep it as a visual prompt to remind the child or young person.
  • Monitor its effectiveness. If necessary rewrite parts of the story to improve the child or young person’s performance.

Top tips and examples

TipsTwo faces one is speaking whilst the other listens

  • The story needs to be as accurate as possible and should include words like ‘sometimes’ and ‘usually’ for situations where a particular outcome is not guaranteed.
  • Using phrases like ‘I will try to…’ is important for times that your child isn’t able to get it right.
  • The story should appeal to the interests of the child or young person for whom it is written and care should also be taken to ensure that words that may cause the individual anxiety or distress are avoided.
  • The content and presentation of a social story should be appropriate to the individual’s age and level of understanding.
  • Avoid lifting social stories straight from books or web – they should be tailored to the child or young person.

Examples

Dealing with loud noises

  • There are many noises (descriptive).
  • Sometimes noises surprise me (descriptive).
  • They are unexpected (descriptive).
  • Some unexpected noises are: telephones, doorbells, barking dogs, breaking glass, vacuum cleaners, slamming doors, honking horns, and thunder (descriptive).
  • These sounds are okay (descriptive or affirmative).
  • I will try to stay calm when I hear unexpected noises (coaching).
  • Adults can tell me when the noise will stop (descriptive or co-operative).

Dealing with lunchtimes at school

  • At school, most people go to the cafeteria for lunch (descriptive).
  • When it is lunchtime, most students eat lunch (descriptive).
  • I go to the cafeteria for lunch (descriptive).
  • Many students like to eat their lunch with others (descriptive/perspective).
  • Everyone likes it best when each student only touches their own food (perspective).
  • When I eat, I will touch my own food and drink my own drink (coaching).

How to put together a social story

Set the scene (use descriptive sentences)

  • What is the situation?
  • What normally happens?
  • Who is there?
  • When does it happen?

Explain the problem (use descriptive sentences)

  • Why is this sometimes hard or confusing?
  • How do people feel when it happens?
  • Does it make anyone else feel sad or scared?
  • Why do we need to do it?

What do you want the child or young person to do?

Use coaching sentences. Focus on one thing that you want your child to do differently

  • Do they need to ask for help?
  • Do they need to wait their turn?
  • Do they need to keep their hands on their lap?
  • Do they need to open their mouth for the dentist?
  • Describe it as if it was the child or young person talking, for example ‘I will try…’
  • Keep it flexible use ‘I will try to…’ because sometimes your child might not manage to get it right.

What happens when the child or young person tries to do the new thing?

  • Will anyone such as teacher, Mummy, Gran, be happy? Use descriptive or perspective sentences
  • Will your child get a sticker? Use descriptive or cooperative sentences
  • Will your child get to choose what to watch on TV as a reward?
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Disclaimer

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: SL47

Resource Type: Article

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