“Social stories” coach kids through transitions and new situations

Most kids learn about appropriate behavior and responses “by osmosis” — they observe and respond to the subtle social cues around them, or they recall how they acted in a similar situation. For kids on the autistic spectrum, however, both picking up nonverbal information and then generalizing it to new situations are very difficult.

Social Stories are a tool developed by Carol Gray to give autistic kids a way to preview and practice new or challenging situations. One writes a specifically-formatted “story” about the situation to share with the child, so he knows what to expect and how to act. This simple tool can help any child who is anxious about change.

From Marita:

My 3.5yo is high-functioning autistic and we’ve been using Social Stories for her with great success.

From the Carol Gray website: “A Social Story™ describes a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format.”

One thing I had not expected was that my neurotypical 5yo daughter would also respond really well to the Social Story format. Most children love a story, even more so a story that features them and their picture in the story. I’ve found it keeps both my girls attention for longer and they remember the story better. New things – going to the dentist, starting school and any time of transition or change can be tackled with a Social Story.

We all appreciate knowing how something will work in advance and what to do if things are not going how we thought they would. It is so simple to put together a story especially with digital cameras and images from Google or Flickr and really worth the payoff of making transitions easier for everyone.

Be sure to drop by Marita’s blog — she has posted some example stories there.

We often use an abbreviated version with our kids: an index card with a bulleted list of reminders for a situation that’s familiar, but new enough that some coaching is in order.

If any of you have experience with Social Stories, either the “official” version or your own interpretation, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


  1. Jess says

    I made a “going to the airport” story with my 1 and a half year old. We read the book starting a few weeks before we left. It helped the most going through security. She knew because of the book that she would see her backpack again soon. After the trip, she re-read the book and remembered all the things she did!

  2. Abigail says

    I used something kind of like this for hanukah last year. We had 8 pretty envelopes, one for each night, which we pinned along a ribbon. In each envelope was a pair of pictures; the activity we would do that night, and who we would do it with. We have many extended family members and friends who we celebrate with, and this was a nice visual way for our then 3-year old to “get” what was going on and prep for the whirlwind of activity. So, on a given night, there would be a picture of family X, whose house we were going to to light candles, and a picture of lighting candles. Another night, a photo of our nuclear family, and a photo of cooking utensils, if we were going to bake a holiday treat that night. Plus, it’s really pretty, the ribbon strung with envelopes, and exciting to get to open the envelopes each day. (would have been greater if I hadn’t gone into labor on the second day of hanukah and remained in the hospital the rest of the holiday.)

  3. says

    Wow, these are so much better than the preparation stories I come up with for my daughter, who has issues with transitions and new experiences (even though she’s never been diagnosed with anything more than “being sensitive”).

    Thanks for the links, and the examples – this will really help with all the steps I need to include when coming up with similar things for my daughter.

  4. LeAnn says

    Social Stories work really well with all kids, especially in the toddler years. I use them with my daughter (age 4) for all kinds of situations. I just made a new book about starting a pre-school. I got permission from the principal to take pictures of my daughter all over the building and with her teachers. Then we put the pictures together with a short story about going to school. Worked great. We had no transition problems.

  5. says

    I love this idea. We are traveling with our 13-month-old (now) across country for Thanksgiving. I bought some blank make-your-own boardbooks on Amazon this afternoon and will be making a couple for her for the trip.

    I will probably do one about the airport and one about Nana’s house.

  6. says

    I’m so happy the Social Stories made it onto Parent Hacks. They are such a fabulous tool and have made the lives of my children and I much easier.

    I hope others have the same success with them that we have.