Bobby is almost three years old. He is friendly, active, and enjoys playing with his friends at preschool. Bobby often has trouble with changes in his routine. His parents decided to move to Israel this summer, but are unsure about how to tell Bobby and help him with the difficult transition away from the only home he’s ever known.
When approaching a big transition or a challenging activity, I often recommend a social story to help introduce an idea while providing language and support. Social stories were originally developed for children with autism spectrum disorder to provide education and language for social interaction they otherwise had trouble navigating. Though that was their initial purpose, I find them a useful tool to support any child.
Having an individualized story with the child’s name, maybe even a picture or someone who looks like them, gives them automatic buy-in and ownership of an activity! Whether it’s a new idea like moving to another country or a challenging activity for them like taking turns, social stories provide individualized language and prompts that parents and caregivers can revisit to provide ongoing reinforcement.
Bobby’s parents and I worked together to create a social story about moving on Storyboard That. I explained we would pick simple pictures and words so the retelling of the story would be easy for Bobby to recall. By using simple pictures and straightforward language, Bobby will be able to “read” the book on his own or with a parent. Simple pictures let Bobby to focus on the idea instead of the details of a picture. Straightforward language allows Bobby to recall the story easily and use the language provided to discuss how he’s feeling or what comes next. We wanted to keep the story short, so it would be easy to talk about and recall. We broke the parts of their move down into six steps, focusing on positive phrasing to help keep an optimistic outlook.
Then the fun part! We designed characters on Storyboard That to look like each of the family members, using the “copy” tool to keep them consistent and quickly move them to the next cell. We used the search bar to find some of Bobby’s favorite toys (a red car and his stuffed bear) to put into the boxes. Other options to really individualize and help children get ready for changes are to include photographs of their new home or town. You can upload your own pictures to Storyboard That to use in your stories as well.
The last step of the social story is working it into your everyday routine. To help a child understand a new event or to help change a behavior, consistency is key. Finding time everyday to read the story provides opportunities to discuss the activity, give support, and reinforce the behaviors you expect. It’s also helpful to leave the physical story out for a child to explore on their own. Just like adults, some children learn verbally, others learn visually. It’s important to give them as much access to the story as possible. I printed two copies of the story for Bobby’s family and laminated them. Mom and Dad gave a copy to his preschool as well, so the story and language stays the same - no matter who is talking about it with him!
Individual stories are a great tool, but sometimes a group of children (or a whole class!) is having trouble with an activity. I recently wrote a social story with a preschool teacher who was frustrated at the lack of sharing in her classroom. Instead of using a particular name, since all of the kids like superheroes, we decided we would make a story about “super sharers”. This open label allows all kids in the class to participate and show how they are a super sharer. The teacher even got special superhero stickers for reinforcement when she hears a child use the phrasing in the story we wrote or sees a “super sharer” moment.
There are lots of online resources if you’re looking for inspiration (see list below) for how to start a social story. Remember some key principles as you write:
Keep language simple to promote repetition and recall.
Keep pictures lifelike and straightforward, so kids don’t get bogged down on detail.
Keep an optimistic and positive tone. Instead of “don’t hit”, try “we keep hands on our own body”.
Keep it short!
Make copies accessible to kids to explore throughout the day.
Build time into your routine to review the story each day.
Social stories are a great way to introduce new ideas, activities or solutions to difficult behaviors. Use individualized stories consistently and watch pro-social behaviors, new language, and new ideas emerge!
For a closer look, please see all of our social story articles:
|Daily Living Skills||Some individuals require explicit instruction on tasks that many of us take for granted. Make a personalized social story to engage the learner.|
|Transitions and Unexpected Events||The unknown is scary for everyone, but unexpected events and transitions can be particularly stressful for individuals with ASD. Help prepare your student or loved one for upcoming changes with a social story.|
|Social Situations||Social interactions can be very stressful for many people, with and without ASD. Make storyboards to show possible situations and outcomes.|
|Adolescent Skills||As kids get older, their interests and needs change. Brooch potentially difficult conversations with a storyboard example.|
|Social Stories in the Classroom||Social stories are also useful for whole group direct instruction of social and coping skills. Use a storyboard to address issues with both individuals and the class.|
|Social Stories for Young Children||Young children often struggle with new concepts or big changes. Create a social story to help prepare even very young children for change or new skills.||
Additional Social Story Resources
Identify specific behaviors or challenges that need to be addressed through behavior management strategies. Consider behaviors that may require intervention, such as social interactions, emotional regulation, self-control, or transitions.
Develop social stories that specifically address the targeted behaviors or challenges. Write narratives that explain the expected behavior, provide clear guidelines, and offer alternative behaviors or coping strategies. Ensure the stories are age-appropriate and engaging for the students.
Enhance the effectiveness of social stories by incorporating visuals, such as illustrations or photographs, to support comprehension and engagement. Personalize the stories by including the student's name, relevant settings, or familiar characters to increase relevance and connection.
Use social stories as a platform to explicitly teach alternative behaviors or coping strategies. Break down the desired behaviors into smaller, manageable steps and provide examples of appropriate responses in various situations. Reinforce the benefits and positive outcomes of using these strategies.
Support students in developing self-regulation and self-monitoring skills through social stories. Teach them to recognize their emotions, understand triggers, and implement self-calming or problem-solving techniques. Encourage reflection and self-assessment after reading the social stories.
Provide consistent reinforcement and positive feedback when students demonstrate the targeted behaviors or use the taught coping strategies. Reinforce their efforts and progress by acknowledging their achievements. Support the generalization of these behaviors by discussing how they can be applied in different settings and situations.
Social stories can benefit students with autism by providing them with visual aids that help them understand social situations and respond appropriately. Social stories use simple language, pictures, and specific examples to help students with autism learn about social cues, social expectations, and social behavior. By reading and practicing social stories, students with autism can develop social skills and reduce anxiety in social situations, leading to improved communication and social interactions with their peers.
Social stories can cover a wide range of topics, such as personal hygiene, making friends, sharing, taking turns, showing kindness, dealing with anxiety, and understanding emotions. Teachers and parents can create social stories based on the specific needs of their students.
Teachers can incorporate social stories into their lesson plans in several ways. They can use premade social stories available online, such as on Storyboard That's website, or create their own using visual aids and simple language to target specific social skills or behaviors they want to address. Social stories can be used as a part of morning meetings, small group instruction, or one-on-one sessions with students. Teachers can also use social stories to reinforce positive behavior, teach empathy, or to help students cope with challenging situations. By integrating social stories into their lesson plans, teachers can help students with autism develop social skills, improve behavior, and build self-confidence.