Navigating social interactions can be one of the biggest challenges for children with autism. That’s what inspired Carol Gray to develop a learning tool called Social Stories in 1990. The approach of using Social Stories has been widely adopted and has even earned Carol several awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.

In general, Social Stories provide an alternative resource for children to get a better understanding of appropriate social interactions. Further, Social Stories can be a wonderful tool for teaching coping skills to children with autism.

Social Stories utilize a specific style and pattern of storytelling to guide people with autism through specific social situations.

Using Social Stories Effectively

In order to be effective, Social Stories should include certain elements. Here is a guide for creating your own Social Stories and using them in an effective way.

Choose A Situation Based On Real Life

The first step is to identify a situation that your child is having trouble dealing with. This could include situations with loud noises (e.g. when ambulances drive by very close) to dealing with new people (e.g. a substitute teacher) or even a death in the family. It’s important to make the situation specific and relevant, otherwise your child will be less likely to fully understand and retain the information and the point of the story.

Writing Social Stories For Children With Autism

After you’ve identified a situation, it’s time to write the story. To be most effective, you should write the story in first person so your child can visualize him or herself in the scenario. You should also be sure to add a positive touch to the story, including making the desired behavior read positively.

When writing the Social Story, it’s important to use a combination of three types of sentences: Descriptive, directive and perspective. Not every story has to include all three types and in’s important to limit the number of directive sentences you use. Here’s how each of those sentences play a role:

Descriptive Sentences

The role of descriptive sentences is to describe what people do in the specific situations. It also lays out the who, what, where, when, how and why of the situation in specific terms so your child gets a clear understanding of what is happening.

Directive Sentences

The purpose of a directive sentence is just what you might think: to direct someone to the appropriate response in a given situation. It’s important for these sentences to remain positive and not interrupt the voice of the reader (your child). Directive sentences are critical to Social Stories because it gives your child the opportunity to engage in the story.

Perspective Sentences

A perspective sentence aims to show children with autism that other people may have certain responses in a given situation. These sentences provide an additional way to show what appropriate responses to social scenarios might be. Perspective sentences also help add context and can provide support for your child when they actually experience the situations.

Using Social Stories To Teach Coping Skills

Going through Social Stories is a great approach to help children with autism. It provides a storyline that they can engage with and you may even find that they enjoy and look forward to the stories. Keep in mind, they may also experience some anxiety with these stories since some of the scenarios are uncomfortable for them.

To be effective, try assessing your child’s response and gauging how much they learn from the story after a week or two. If you feel they haven’t learned from it or been comforted by it then you can try rewriting the story slightly differently to make it more suitable.

For teaching coping skills specifically, be sure to tread lightly with the details. If it’s a death in the family or your child’s friend has moved away, it’s critical to keep the story positive despite the generally negative situation. Perspective sentences can be especially helpful for children coping with something because it helps make them feel less alone.

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