Social Stories Help Children With Autism Cope With Social Situations

A social story is a learning tool to help children with autism feel more comfortable in different social situations. These stories describe scenes from a child’s viewpoint and include pictures to make them more engaging.


The sections below discuss social stories and their importance to children with autism.

What are Social Stories?

After teaching children with autism at a public school in 1976, Dr. Carol Gray created Social Stories™ and Social Story™ in 1991. Gray’s social stories are narratives that describe specific social situations, including what to expect in these situations and why.


Gray wrote her first social story for the children she taught and published her first book in 1993. She has since taught parents and teachers worldwide how to write their own social stories to help children with autism navigate social situations.


Today, social stories help thousands of children with learning disorders as well.

What are Social Stories For?

Besides helping children who find it hard to learn new skills or cope with social situations, social stories are used as a guide to learning self-care skills.  


For example, if your child is diagnosed with autism and refuses to wash their hands or brush their teeth, a specific social story may make them feel more comfortable doing it. If your child struggles to interpret social cues, a social story will allow them to see how other children may respond to similar situations.


Social story structures follow a child with autism’s perspective, which will help you gain insight into how your child views the world. If your child doesn’t do well with changes to their routine, or if they are scared of extreme weather events, a social story can teach them how to cope with fear.

How do Social Stories Help?

Social stories help children with autism by breaking down overwhelming experiences into smaller chunks. For instance, if your child refuses to step inside a dentist’s office, a relevant social story may help them take that first step.


Furthermore, a social story opens the way for positive reinforcement and helps build your child’s self-esteem as you praise them for achieving a specific task.


If your child develops an obsession or becomes fixated on rituals, you can help them stop obsessive behavior with a relevant social story.


Social stories also highlight the sequence of social norms and provide ‘tips’ for your child that explain how to proceed when they find themselves in a particular situation.

Example of a Social Story

A well-known social story that has helped many children with autism cope with everyday social situations is My Toys, which is included in Dr. Gray’s The New Social Story Book.


If you observe signs of anxiety in your child when they go to school or socialize with other children, this story will teach them how to overcome their fear by sharing their toys.


My Toys will help your child recognize that their toys belong to them, but when they share their toys, other children can also enjoy them.


This story is perfect for children who may be reluctant to share their toys or play with other children.

How to Write a Social Story

If you can’t find a social story for a specific issue your child has trouble with, you can write your own story.

Picture the Goal

For instance, if you’re trying to teach your child not to wipe their nose on their sleeve, the story should detail why wiping noses on sleeves is a bad habit.


The story could describe a situation in which someone wipes their nose on their sleeve when they’re sick, and soon cause an entire neighborhood to become sick too. So here, the goal is to show the consequences of wiping noses on sleeves.

Gather Information

Once you’ve chosen the story you want to tell, you must gather enough information to describe all the scenes that lead to the goal. You should set the scene and decide how many people are in the situation and how long it lasts.


Take care to avoid words that may upset your child. You may also want to read up on appropriate topics for children with autism. The same goes for images: only choose appropriate pictures to punctuate the story and make it easier to understand.

Tailor the Text

Pictures and drawings help to tailor the social story, as does gentle language. You may want to use these illustrations to break up the story into sections below the title. These sections include the introduction, body, and ending.


Furthermore, the story should answer six questions:


  • Where does the situation play out?
  • When does the situation play out?
  • What happens during the situation?
  • Who is involved in the situation?
  • How is the situation resolved?
  • Why does the situation need to be resolved?


Use descriptive language throughout the story to answer these questions, and remember to add context as well.


In addition to answering questions and reaching the goal, your story should include coaching sentences. These include the appropriate reaction to an adult asking a child a question or how to deal with different emotions, such as anger.


For example, a child in the story may release feelings of anger by going for a walk or doing breathing exercises.

How to Use Social Stories

Additional ways to use a social story to help your child deal with social situations include adding more questions your child can find answers for. Or you can ask them to draw a picture based on the story.


You may want to wait until your child is relaxed before asking them if they want to read a story with you. If they agree, observe their reaction to the story to see how it affects them. If they react negatively, stop reading and start talking about something else.


If your child seems to enjoy the story, try to find more in the same vein.


Using social stories to successfully manage your child’s social anxiety will depend on their reaction to them. You should also remember that if your child displays non-verbal tendencies, social stories may not work for them.


In this case, you may want to discuss alternative ideas with a therapist or psychologist.



If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.


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