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Social Stories: What are they and how do you make one?

Social Stories are a fantastic way of helping children with SEN, predominantly autism, understand and cope with new experiences, changes or situations in their life. Often a short series of pictures, social stories include specific information about what to expect and why which can help reduce anxiety.

What are Social Stories for?

Social Stories can be used for nearly any situation or change that a child may need to experience. Some examples include;

  • developing self-care - how to get dressed independently, brush your teeth, toilet training, etc.

  • social skills - asking for help, sharing toys, saying please and thank you

  • changes in routine - moving house, introduction of a new sibling, absent teacher

  • managing emotions - what to do if feeling angry, frustrated or upset

  • feedback - providing positive feedback for an area of strength

How do Social Stories help?

Social Stories help provide information in a literal, 'concrete', which can help provide an easier way for children with SEN to understand an ambiguous or anxiety-inducing situation. By providing exact information about what might happen in a situation, it provides additional structure and also helps with executive functioning skills such as planning and organising.

The type of social story can be adapted based on any individual's needs, some stories may be more picture based, others may have more text with just simple pictures to assist.

How to Write Social Stories

There are 3 main stages to writing a great social story - picture the goal, gather the information and tailor the text.

Picture the goal

What is the goal of the social story? It might be to help with a transition, improve skills or explain a change but you need to be clear on what you want the social story to convey.

Now think about everything the child needs to understand about this goal. Let's take a common goal of washing hands after using the toilet. They need to understand why it is important to wash your hands (i.e. to stop germs spreading), how we wash our hands correctly and what we do afterwards.

Gather information

Now think about the information you want to describe in your social story. When is the action done? Who is it with? What are the steps involved and why are they important? Stories are written with the individual in mind, so ensure the language that is used is in line with their ability level and avoid any words that are triggering.

Use age-appropriate pictures, symbols or drawings with text to help explain the situation. It can be helpful to use real-life pictures of your school/classroom/home, especially for transition stories or explaining actions that need to be taken in certain environments.

Tailor the text

Like any story, a social story needs to have a title, introduction, body and conclusion. The text should centre around 6 questions; who, what, where, when, why and how?

You should use descriptive language and coaching sentences for encouragement. A descriptive sentence will accurately describe the context of the situation in question;

  • Sometimes I will have a different teacher

  • New Years Eve is the 31st December

  • I need to wash my hands so I don't get sick

A coaching sentence might be things like;

  • I will hold an adult's hand when crossing the road.

  • When I am upset, I can use the sensory box

  • I will ask for help if I am stuck

It is important to plan how, when and how often social stories should be used with each individual child. When you do use them, present them in a calm, relaxed environment where you know the child can engage and listen to the content. Try starting off the session by saying 'I've written a story for you. It's about washing our hands. Let's read it together.'

Monitor how well the social story is being received and if you see any changes in behaviour. This will not happen overnight, but even small changes can be a great sign that the child is understanding the content and applying it in their lives.

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