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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ask Amanda: Writing a Social Story

My son ..., who has Aspergers, is now 5 years old. He started full time school in September and is making pretty good progress in most areas. There have been a couple of incidents though that have been cause for concern. When the other children play rough and tumble he doesn't really understand how to do it back without hurting them or he even gets upset by it and acts out. He has scratched a boy on two occasions and really left a mark which is upsetting for all parties. I was wondering if you would be able to advise me on how to go about constructing a social story for [him]. ...


Here are some key things to consider when writing a social story:

Social stories:

    • "Can't teach a new skill

    • "Can remind a child where to apply an existing skill" (Smith, 2003)
In other words, make sure you child knows how to act on the things you are writing about in your story. Role play, prompting, rewards, supervision and repetition should be used to teach the skill with a social story being the "script" to remind your child what it is they should try to do.

Have a beginning, middle and end
Like any story, you need to set the scene, develop a theme, hit a climax and find a resolution. It should sound like a story, not a list of instructions or directions.

Cover where, what and who
Your story will need to describe where the behaviour is to occur, what may happen and who is involved. If you address these questions in your story, you are telling your child about the context for the desired behaviour so they know exactly when they are to use it, who they are to use it with and what is expected to happen.

Whose perspective?
The story must be written from your child's perspective. So try and see the event from your child's perspective, and when you are writing what you want your child to do make sure you write it in the first person. Just a note here that Gray (2000) does suggest that for older children/youth a social story should be written from a third person perspective - "Like a newspaper article" (appendix 13.10).

A different perspective
If you are stating a negative (what you want your child to avoid), then you should use a third person perspective.

Being literal and logical
Read through your story like a director, imagining each step of what your child would do if they followed the story literally step-by-step. This means that there should be no figurative language or phrases that assume knowledge.

Directing vs. demanding
Children with Autism and Aspergers can become distressed if they are told they "must" do something - and they don't succeed in to doing exactly what it is they have been told to do. However, we do need to have at least one "directive" sentence in our social stories. The way to make sure it is directive rather than demanding is simply by starting the sentence with "I will try..." rather than "I must..." or "I have to..."

The words you use
Make sure that you are using language that matches the language development of your child. Use words that he knows, understands and uses every day. Use picture sequences for young children with language difficulties, or reinforce your story with pictures. You will also need to make sure that your story matches your child's concentration span. The younger and more easily distracted your child, the shorter your story should be.

For some good examples of how to put these elements into a social story, visit


Early Childhood Services Team (nd) Tip Sheet: Creating Social Stories. Retrieved 6th March from

Gray, C. (2000). The New Social Story Book: Illustrated Edition. Future Horizons: Texas

Smith, C. (2003). Writing and Developing Social Stories: Practical Interventions in Autism. Speechmark: UK.


Adelaide Dupont March 6, 2010 at 3:47 PM  

It may seem obvious, but I didn't know social stories couldn't teach new skills, but had to go on existing ones.

Amanda March 6, 2010 at 6:56 PM  

Yes, I thought that was interesting, too. Although I do think that social can be part of the process of teaching a new skill, a child really needs to understand and be able to "picture" the actions being explained in the story before they can get the most benefit out of it.

Anonymous,  March 8, 2010 at 2:16 PM  

Thanks for the post. I am a Speech Path, currently only working 2 hours a week with an early intervention group for children with Autism. I used to use social stories with infants and primary aged children with Autism/ Aspergers a lot. I'm wondering what at age you would usually begin using social stories? Would you consider 5 years (the age of the child in your reader's question) to be the lower age range, or do you use them with preschoolers too?

Amanda March 8, 2010 at 5:58 PM  

Social stories have been used for under-fives successfully, but must be used with an understanding of the child's language, comprehension and literacy abilities. For example, for very young children using a photo sequence of a role play can by-pass language but still achieve a similar outcome. For children aged between three and five, the use of pictures would be essential to making a social story work, ensuring that the pictures are "literal" and any accompanying language is repetitive and simple. For example, with each of the pictures should come a very simple phrase or word, and this phrase/word should be said each time the picture is indicated in the social story picture sequence.

Hope that helps :)

Anonymous,  March 9, 2010 at 11:34 AM  

Thanks Amanda, that does help.

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