Building Social Skills using Social Stories-Part 1

What are social stories and how can they be used with my child?

Written by Christie Cacioppo, M.A., BCaBA


There are many children with developmental disabilities who have social skill deficits.  Luckily, Social Stories are here to help!  Social Stories, defined by Carol Gray of the Gray Center, “describe a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format”.  Basically, the goal of social stories is to be able put a social situation into a form that can be easily understood by the reader and lets the reader know the expectations within that social setting.  This helps them better understand the situation and what to do or not to do. 

Social stories are a quick and easy way to introduce new situations to an individual with minimal effort.  All that parents have to do is read the story to the child, ask a few questions, and role play with them.  Chan and O’Reilly in 2008 found that following these steps increase appropriate behaviors such as hand raising and social interactions and decreased inappropriate behaviors such as inappropriate social interactions and vocalizations in a classroom setting.  Thiemann and Goldstein (2001) found that their children’s skill increases also generalized to other settings and other behaviors.

Social stories can help individuals of all ages and skill levels in a variety of situations and can cover a range of topics such as introduce a child to a new environment, engage in more appropriate behavior, emotions, and even what not to do in certain situations.  All of these behaviors are important because children need to learn to appropriately interact with their environment and the people in it.  Below are a few specific examples of situations that social stories can be used for:


  • Riding in an airplane
  • Bullying
  • Playing nicely with others
  • Personal hygiene
  • Playing games
  • Specific inappropriate behaviors
  • Emotions
  • Why certain behaviors are important
  • Why certain behaviors should be avoided



If you think that a social story might be something that you would like to use, consider this first;

  1. “Does my child have reading comprehension skills?” 
  • If they do, then these might be something to try and the whole story could consist of words. 
  1. If not, then ask yourself "Can I ask my child questions about what I say to them and they answer correctly?" 
  • If so then these might still work.  In this case, you could use words and pictures.  If they cannot answer questions correctly, then you can either go over the story with them many times until they are able to answer the questions correctly, use just pictures, or think about using another method. 


There are a few things to remember when writing a social story.  Remember to be positive and state the expectation clearly.  Sometimes there are only 1-3 sentences on a page, but depending on the skill level of the child there may be more.  There are a few important components that are incorporated into a typical social story:

1)  The topic in general
2)  What might happen before
3)  How to act when that “something” happens
4)  What will happen if an appropriate behavior happens
5)  What will happen if an inappropriate behavior happens
6)  What the ultimate goal(s) is(are)
7)  If your child is a visual learner, then pictures might be a good idea.  If using pictures, they can be either clip art or pictures of the actual children engaging in the actions presented.

When writing the social story, remember that each child is an individual and learns in their own way.  Make sure that the story is written towards your child’s skill level and situation.  For some examples of social stories you can go to http://kidscandream.webs.com/page12.htm or http://www.child-behavior-guide.com/free-social-stories.html (this site also has software that can be downloaded to help you create a social story that can be saved for later use or printed).  This site goes deeper into social stories and has more resources such as a YouTube clip, http://www.thegraycenter.org/social-stories.  Have fun writing and look for our blog next month on this topic that explains ways to teach the social stories using role plays to make them more effective!!

Chan, J. M., & O'Reilly, M. F. (2008). A Social Stories Intervention Package for Students with Autism in Inclusive Classroom Settings. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis(41), 405-409.

Gray, C. (n.d.). Social Stories. Retrieved January 7, 2013, from The Gray Center: http://www.thegraycenter.org/social-stories

Thiemann, K. S., & Goldstein, H. (2001). Social stories, written text cues, and video feedback: effects on social communication of children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 34, 425-446.

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