I personally love writing social stories because they have been tremendously successful for my family!
Here are my tips for how to write a social story. As well, I share the benefits of using social stories and describe what a social story is. As a bonus, I've included a free printable cheat sheet for writing social stories.
What is a Social Story?
A social story is a simple and effective tool for teaching kids how to do certain things, handle problem behaviors, master social skills, and navigate new or unfamiliar social situations. Social stories can be written about practically anything that your child may be struggling with from problem behaviors, such as anger or biting, to daily living skills, such as how to brush your teeth or use the potty, to unfamiliar events, such as how to act at a wedding.
A good social story teaches the child what the expected behaviors are, as well as the expected responses. It also describes, in detail, what the situation, event, or skill requires.
Social stories are written to:
- Describe an unfamiliar situation or event
- Explain social scenarios and the expected behaviors involved
- Help with transitions, especially into unfamiliar situations or events
- Break down a target behavior or skill into easy to follow steps
- Address a wide variety of problems, events, behaviors, etc.
- Teach routines
- Simplify goals, skills, events, or behaviors so that they can be easily learned and generalized
Why Should I Use a Social Story?Social stories are great for kids with autism or hyperlexia because it is a visual tool. They break complex situations and behaviors down into simple, easy-to-follow steps and increase success at mastering the skill.
We personally love using social stories for reinforcing expected behaviors and responses for unfamiliar situations. They have helped my son sit quietly through a funeral, master toilet training, understand the timeline of family trips, including who we would be visiting and when, and so much more! Even before we knew of J's hyperlexia, social stories were instrumental in his success and mastery of a wide variety of concepts and skills!
Who Can Write a Social Story?Anyone! Yes, even you. Actually, I strongly suggest you write your own for your child because then you can personalize the social stories with details that are specific to your child. You can include your child's name, specific dates, names of other people that will be participating, names of buildings or places you will be visiting, etc. You can also include photos of all of those specific details too!
Tips for Writing a Social StoryWriting a social story is quite easy. All you need is a word processing program, Powerpoint, Google Docs, or even an app! I personally use Microsoft Publisher, but I have used Microsoft Word in the past. Then you just need to follow these simple tips to create your own.
1. Identify the target behavior, skill, or event in the titleMake the title of the social story clear and concise. It should specify exactly what the social story is about.
Example: How to Tie My Shoes or Wearing Glasses Social Story
Only write about one topic per social story. You do not want to overwhelm your child. So pick one topic, such as visiting the dentist, for your social story and write only about that particular topic.
2. Focus on one thing or event at a time
3. Use pictures to support the textMost kids with autism or hyperlexia benefit from a visual support to accompany the text. Pictures aid in comprehension and help the child see what certain things about the event or thing look like (e.g., a picture of a dentist chair can show the child what the dentist's office might look).
You can use your own photos, make your own drawings, or search free stock photo or clipart websites. I like to use Pixabay or Canva for finding photos to use.
4. Keep the format of the social story simpleUse a simple format for the social story by limiting the text on each page and by using simple colors and fonts.
I prefer to use simple white backgrounds for my social stories to eliminate extraneous visual distractions. Using a white background also allows for the text and accompanying photo to be the main highlight of each page.
I also try to keep text to a minimum on each page by trying to use only 1-2 sentences per page.
5. Break down the event or thing into simple stepsTry to think of every step possible involved in a certain event or skill and try to include each step in the social story. Since kids with autism or hyperlexia are literal thinkers and struggle with abstract concepts, it is best to even include the hidden implied steps that neurotypical people generally take for granted. For instance, when using the potty, specify that we have to pull down our underwear and pants and then when we are done, pull up our underwear and pants.
6. Include exact phrases or scripts for the child to sayUse the social stories to teach your child expected responses for the situation. For instance, in my trick-or-treating social story, I include what a child should say (i.e., "Trick or treat!") when at a house so that the child can repeat that exact phrase correctly while actually trick-or-treating.
7. Be descriptive and answer the WH questions about the event or thingSocial stories should always include descriptive sentences, which answer the WH questions like when, who, what, where, why, and how.
Example: I brush my teeth twice a day. Once in the morning and before I go to bed. That helps keep my teeth clean. (These sentences describe how often, when, and why a child needs to brush their teeth.) - PS: Pick up the free printable brushing teeth social story while you're here!
8. Describe how the child, and others, should feel or reactSocial stories should also describe how the child should feel or react to the certain event or skill.
Example: It is okay for me to cry at a funeral.
It is also important to include perspective sentences in a social story. Perspective sentences describe the feelings, thoughts, or moods of someone else.
Example: My parents will be so proud of me for learning how to tie my shoes by myself!
9. Describe exactly what the child should doSocial stories should describe exactly what behavior is expected of the child by writing directive sentences. These directive sentences describe what the child should do during the situation or to master the skill. These directive sentences should always be written in a positive manner (i.e., try to avoid the words "do not").
Example: When I watch a movie at the movie theatre, I will sit quietly in my seat. (A negative example would be: When I watch a movie at the movie theatre, I do not jump on my seat.)
10. Keep the language simple and positiveAvoid metaphors, idioms, or other abstract concepts. Kids with autism or hyperlexia are literal thinkers so try to keep the language simple to reflect that. As mentioned earlier, the language should always focus on the positive. The social stories should focus on what the child should or can do and not on what the child can or cannot do. Or, at the very least, reword any negative or unexpected behaviors as positively as you can.
11. Write the social story in first-personWrite it from the perspective of the child. It will help them relate to the story!
12. Write the social story in present tenseAlways write the social story in present tense.
Bonus tipSocial stories should include 2-5 descriptive or perspective sentences for each directive sentence. Social stories written in this manner have been found to be more successful.
Tips for Writing a Social Story RecapToo lazy to read everything above? No worries, here's a quick video that contains most of the tips found above.
Example Social StoriesTo get a better idea of how to write or format a social story, check out these free printable social stories:
- Wearing Glasses Social Story
- Brushing My Teeth Social Story
- Carving a Pumpkin Social Story
- Trick-or-Treating Social Story
Other Ideas You'll LoveMini Social Scripts Flip Books
Visual Calm Down Strategies Cards
Free Printable Daily Visual Schedule