Thursday, November 5, 2015

What is a social story and how to write one

Social stories are short descriptions of a particular situation, event or activity, which include specific information about what to expect in that situation and why. 

Social stories have a huge range of applications, including:

  • to develop self-care skills (eg how to clean teeth, wash hands or get dressed), social skills (eg sharing, asking for help, saying thank you, interrupting) and academic abilities 
  • to help a person with autism to understand how others might behave or respond in a particular situation, and therefore how they might be expected to behave 
  • to help others understand the perspective of a person with autism and why they may respond or behave in a particular way 
  • to help a person to cope with changes to routine and unexpected or distressing events (eg absence of teacher, moving house, thunderstorms) 
  • to provide positive feedback to a person about an area of strength or achievement in order to develop self-esteem 
  • as a behavioural strategy (eg what to do when angry, how to cope with obsessions).

The information on this page is based on Carol Gray's social story guidelines, published in The new social story book (1994). 

Picture the goal

Consider the social story's purpose. For example, the goal may be to teach a child to cover their mouth when coughing.

Now think about what the child needs to understand to achieve this goal. For example, they need to understand why covering their mouth when coughing is important, ie it stops germs from being spread which may make other people sick.

Gather information

The next stage is to gather information about the person including their age, interests, attention span, level of ability and understanding. 

As well as this, collect information about the situation you want to describe in your social story. For example: where does the situation occur, who is it with, how does it begin and end, how long does it last, what actually happens in the situation and why?

Tailor the text

A social story is made up of several different types of sentences that are presented in a particular combination. Sentence types are described in the Figure 1 below:

Figure 1

Sentence type 

What is it? 





Answers the 'wh' questions wheredoes the situation occur, who is it with, what happens and why?Descriptive sentences need to present information from an accurate and objective perspective.

Christmas Day is 25 December. 

Most children go to school. 

Sometimes I get sick.





Refers to the opinions, feelings, ideas, beliefs or physical/mental well being of others. 



My Mum and Dad knowwhen it is time for me to go to bed. 

Teachers like it when students raise their hand to ask a question in the classroom. 

Some children believe in Santa Claus.



Gently offers a response or range of responses for behaviour in a particular situation. It is important that these sentences have a positive focus and are constructed in ways which allow flexibility (ie avoid statements like I must or I have to). 


will try to cover my mouth when I cough. 

might like to play outside during lunchtime. 

When I am angry, I can

  •          take three deep breaths 
  •          go for a walk 
  •          jump on the trampoline.





Statements that enhance the meaning of the previous sentence (which may be a descriptive, perspective or directive sentence) and can be used to emphasise the importance of the message or to provide reassurance to the person. 

(I will try to hold an adults hand when crossing the road). This is very important.

(Thunder can be very loud).This is ok.




Sentences which identify how others may be of assistance to the person(developed by Dr Demetrious Haracopos in Denmark). 



Mum and Dad can help me wash my hands. 

An adult will help me when I cross the road.  

My teacher will help me to try to stay calm in class.




Statements written by the person with autism to provide personal meaning to a particular situation and to assist them to recall and apply information.

My body needs food several times per day; just like a steam train needs coal to stay running. 





Incomplete sentences, which allow the person to guess the next step in a situation, and may be used with descriptive, perspective, directive, affirmative, co-operative and control sentences. 

My name is  ___________  (descriptive sentence) 

Mum and Dad will feel ____________ if I finish all my dinner  (perspective sentence)

The sentence types described in the above table need to be put together in a particular combination to make a social story (referred to as the social story ratio).

In each story, there should be no more than one directive or control sentence and at least two (but no more than five) of the remaining sentence types. 

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