Tips for Using Social Stories at School and Home – Part I

Posted by Dr. Linda Miller on 1/21/2022 1:00:00 PM

Social stories are short, visual stories that can be used at school and home to help children plan for and manage their daily lives.

Created by Carol Gray as a visual aid for students with autism, social stories have benefited many children - whether developmentally disabled or not - who struggle with communication skills or undesirable behaviors.

Created by combining text and images into a "story," social stories are incredibly adaptable and useful for many reasons:

  • To develop self-care skills like washing hands, 
  • Teach social skills like taking turns, 
  • Teach behavior strategies like how to cope when they're upset or angry,
  • Communicate changes to routines and schedules. 
  • Prepare for significant events like a family move,
  • Calm anxiety before high sensory situations such as shopping malls and zoos. 

Social stories work by taking something that would require long explanations or complex steps and breaking it down into short, simple steps with accompanying pictures. 

Stories can be printed in booklet form to resemble storybooks, but there is no single way to design a social story. They can be created in presentation software like PowerPoint, in the form of a comic strip, or whatever means is suited to the child and the situation. In a pinch, even drawings on a napkin will suffice!

Social stories can be life-changing for teachers, parents, and the child. I speak from experience. For the past 20+ years, I have been using social stories to help my autistic son navigate the world around him. I also used them extensively as a teacher. They range from storybooks to hand-drawn comics, and I've even made a few videos. And yes, I've also drawn them on napkins.

I am still not perfect at creating social stories. There have been some failures. To keep you from repeating those failures, here are four tips that will help make your social stories--and your child--a success.

Tip #1: Decide on the goal first.

First, decide on the end goal--and like all goals, it must be measurable. "Behaving better" is not a measurable goal. "Keeping your feet still during story time" is. 


Tip #2: Break down the steps

What steps will the student take to achieve the goal? Be specific, even with processes you think are implied. 

If, for instance, you are using a social story to teach teeth brushing, you wouldn't start with "put toothpaste on the toothbrush." That assumes the child knows how to take the cap off and squeeze the tube gently. 


Tip #3: The title must reflect the goal.

Every story needs a title, and in this case, the title needs to be specific to the goal. If the purpose of your story is learning to take turns, the title would be "Taking Turns" or, more specifically, "Taking Turns on the Playground." Stories should also be personalized for the student, for instance, "Johnny Takes Turns on the Playground." 


Tip #4: Use as little text as possible.

The text takes up space and can be distracting--especially for struggling readers. The child should be able to use the images as a reminder of the goal and not have to depend on the text.


Be sure to check back for part II and more tips for using social stories to help you.