Social Stories are a great tool to help kids manage difficult or confusing situations. It’s a way to give information about those situations, including what is expected or what might happen in a simple, supportive and reassuring way. Carol Gray initially defined and refined the process of creating social stories.
They can be particularly effective with kids who are on the spectrum, but they can also be used with anyone who just needs a little help to manage a situation or events. I’ve written social stories for kids at school to help them manage continuing a grade or losing a game at recess. One of my colleagues and I even wrote a social story about not passing gas in the classroom (for real, it is the funniest social story ever!!).
A couple of years ago, I started using social stories at home to help my son during potty training, for dentist appointments and for staying in his bed all night long. Here are some tips to help you write a social story for your own child.
Focus on one thing at a time
As parents, it’s so tempting to try and fix everything all at once, and stuff it all into one nice long social story. Resist that urge. A Social Story should have one particular goal in mind. Focus on one issue at a time, and break the situation or event down into simple sentences.
For example, when I first took my son to see the dentist, it was awful. So a few weeks before our next scheduled dentist appointment, I wrote him a social story so he understood what’s expected at the dentist, what he will see and what they will ask him to do.
Make sure you include what is going well.
A social story is meant to be positive and reassuring. Don’t just focus on the negatives during this. It shouldn’t be shameful or punishing, rather it should come from a place of explaining and discussing expected behaviors.
Be a detective
You need to gather information about this particular situation - when does it occur, how long does it last, etc. When creating a story you also need to think about the person you are writing it for, what do they like, what are their strengths, what are their interests and use that to create a positive social story.
For my son - I knew he couldn’t stand the dentist, but I needed to be specific so I thought back to what he really struggled with during that first appointment. He went back to the room with no problems, but he had a hard time lying down and opening his mouth for the dentist.
He loved pretending to be different animals at this time, so I used that knowledge to write something he would relate to. I used an example of roaring like a lion to open his mouth for the dentist.
Keep the language simple, accurate and positive
I like to keep it as simple and easy to read as possible. Write in the first person for younger kids, for older kids write it in the 3rd person.
Typically a social story has several sentences. There are 3 main types of sentences that are used.
These types of sentences answer “w” questions - Who? What? When? Where? Why?
Example: The dentist will look in my mouth with a little mirror.
These types of sentences describe what goes on for someone else - their feelings, thoughts or moods.
Example: Mommy and Daddy will be so proud of me.
This sentence explains what behavior is expected from the person and/or in a particular situation. It’s not meant to be written in a negative way, rather in a positive one.
Example: I will need to keep my mouth wide open and hold my head still while the dentist is looking in my mouth.
You want to make sure that you are following the social story ratio - no more than 1 directive sentence for every 2 to 5 descriptive or perspective sentences.
Pictures are powerful
I always like to use pictures or images to show what I’ve written in the words. When I’m making a social story for my son, I use his picture on the front. I usually find some cartoon or image that he connects with to add onto each small section of the story.
For example, I had a picture of a lion roaring on the page where the social story described that he needed to keep his mouth open for the dentist. If your child is into Minecraft or Angry Birds, a social story can be a great place to include these images.
Simplify how it looks
I usually have a sentence or two on one page along with an image. I like to keep it simple and not too fussy.
Review it when you need
We keep my son’s social stories in his room so we can read them as part of the bedtime routine. For instance, when we know he has a dentist appointment approaching, we read the social story about the dentist for a few nights as part of the bedtime routine.
Try an app
There are some neat apps out there that let you add in your own sentences and images and create a social story on your phone or other devices. This is so convenient!
Here are a few pages from the most recent Social Story I wrote about my son staying in bed all night.
Have you ever used a Social Story?