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What is a Social Story?

4 1 What is a Social Story?
Expert Name:  Julie Nagy-Morris, MSW, LISW-S
Expert Title: MSW, LISW-S
Company Name:  Step By Step Academy
Company URL: www.stepbystepacademy.org
Short Bio: Julie is an experienced Social Worker with over 7 years of experience working with children in both educational and clinical settings.

At Step by Step Academy, Julie provides case management services and individual and group counseling to adolescents with Autism and their families. Her responsibilities also include development and delivery of training programs for parents and staff.

Julie graduated from Ohio State University in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. In 2003, she earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work (with a Clinical concentration and School Social Work specialization). Julie is a Licensed Independent Social Worker Supervisor (LISW-S) and holds a School Social Work (SSW) License from the Ohio Department of Education.

What is a Social Story?

A social story is just like it sounds… it’s a very short story (usually only a few pages) that teaches a child what to expect in a social situation and how to behave appropriately. The story should be short and very focused in order to keep your child’s attention. Too much information may be overwhelming and defeat the purpose.  

We know that children with ASD struggle greatly with picking up on social cues and often experience anxiety because they don’t know how to behave in certain situations, especially in unfamiliar settings.  A social story should provide the basics of what will happen in that setting/situation and how one should behave. Of course, there will always be unexpected variables that a parent/caregiver cannot control for but a social story provides a basic foundation.

Social Stories are a fantastic and cost effective way in which to facilitate social learning with your child. Many of these stories are available for free online or compiled in a book that can be used again and again.

If you have the time and want to create a personalized story you can write the text in Microsoft Word and then include clip art or even actual pictures. For example, let’s say you plan on taking your child to a family member’s house for a large Thanksgiving gathering. Who will the child meet, are these familiar adults? If not include their pictures and names in the social story. Children understand their immediate family, they know who their primary caregiver is (whether it be a mother and/or father, grandparent, etc.) and if they have siblings. Explaining the definition of “extended family” is probably too complicated and unnecessary. You can simply state that these people are part of the child’s larger family while providing their names and pictures in the story.

Continuing with this example…what is Thanksgiving? What are the expectations? It’s probably best not to worry about explaining the actual meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday (typical children and even some adults often struggle to remember!) but focus on the basics. Your child should know the family will sit together and eat dinner. Of course, a social story isn’t meant to replace the other preventatives you may have in place to keep your child calm and happy (i.e. allowing them to spend time away from the family in a quiet room if things get too loud and they are overwhelmed, allowing them to eat something other than what is being served, bringing along favorite toys and comfort items, etc.)
Here are some examples of popular social stories I have found to be very beneficial in my counseling sessions with children and adolescents with ASD…

•    Going to the Doctor
•    Going to the Dentist
•    Holidays
•    Moving to a New Home
•    Using “Nice Hands”
•    Asking for Help
•    Feelings
•    How to be a Good Friend
•    Personal Hygiene (also commonly referred to as “Getting Ready for School” and “Getting Ready for Bedtime”)

For an early learner, the story should consist mostly of pictures with a small amount of text. A good rule of thumb is one sentence per picture. More advanced learners should be presented with more text but at least one or two pictures is still helpful as we know children with ASDs learn best through visual means.

We know that children with ASD thrive on repetition and social stories should be presented on a regular basis. A very simple but effective way to organize these stories is in a 3 ring binder, perhaps separated by general subject matter (i.e. Daily Living Skills, Community Outings, Friendship, etc.). My experience has been children simply can’t get enough of these stories and they are highly effective. I also recommend using social stories with typical siblings. We all struggle at times with how to behave in social situations, and social stories should alleviate some of that anxiety.


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Interrupting Social Story Curriculum


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Being an RBT for me was extremely fun because where were you going to find a place where you can be completely silly without having to worry what people thought about you? This was the only job that made me feel like I could make a dramatic difference while being myself.

I also liked to be surrounded by people that had the same goals of wanting to help kids and the teamwork made the job much easier and more enjoyable.

Change and progress was the ultimate goal for our kiddos. The early intervention program was seriously only a miracle because I saw changes in the kiddos that from day one, you wouldn’t even recognize who they were.

Changes from being able to utter 3-4 words where they can only make a syllable from when they started, the behavior decreases in which kiddo that used to engage in 30-40 0 self-harm to only half, learning how to wait during games, table work where they use to swipe and drop to the floor if they had to.

My favorite was when the parents would tell us what amazing progress they were making at home. I used to tear up and felt for these parents so much because it was already difficult for them and now, they can trust and rely on ABA and the therapists knowing their goal was ours.

By Emma Rogers, BA, RBT

Mother Child
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