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Using Social Stories: Helping autistic children understand social cues

Using Social Stories: Helping autistic children understand social cues

Social Stories are a great tool to help young people better understand and interact within the world around them by providing a unique story which explains the scenario. Some autistic and disabled children find it challenging to understand social cues and why certain behaviours are expected in given situations.

Social Stories™ were created by Carol Gray, a Consultant teacher to Children, Adolescents, and Adults with Autism, to help autistic people understand interactions better.

This method can also be used to reinforce positive behaviours that your child is already engaging in. If Social Stories are only used to prepare a child for anxiety provoking times or to change their current behaviours, then your child is more likely to think of them as an anxious and negative activity.

Paul McIlroy, Associate Director of Clinical Services at Caudwell Children said:

“Social Stories are a really useful way for the team working in our Autism Service to build trust and understanding with the children that visit the Caudwell International Children’s Centre.

“When we’re working with families on an Autism Spectrum Assessment, we provide them with going to the CICC and having an assessment Social Stories which supports them in preparing their child or young person for their assessment day.

“Very often this really helps to reduce the understandable anxiety young people feel when entering an unfamiliar situation such as an autism assessment or one of our Occupational Therapy sessions.

“The verbal and visual cues that we provide via Social Stories can be easily tailored to suit the learning and communication style of every child – because parents and carers know their child best!

“There are lots of ways to help a child manage transitions between tasks, and Social Stories are one very effective way.

“For more tips to help on setting routines and managing change, you may want to read this blog post.”

Each story must cover the following points:

  1. What is happening.
  2. Who is doing what.
  3. Why it is happening.
  4. What the expectations are.
  5. What the socially expected response is.
  6. Why this should happen.


A photo of a social story example. A template showing a sequence of drawings and text describing a trip to the dentist.

How to use Social Stories:

You may want to create a Social Story to help your child prepare for a new situation, such as a day out. Repetition of the social story with your child will support the learning process of the social situation. This can reduce anxiety because the expected behaviour is clearly stated.

Below are some points to consider when making and using Social Stories:

  1. Write the story down or type it for easy access.
  2. Add pictures to support the writing.
  3. During calm times, have your child read through the story and act it out to practise it. This needs to be done several times.
  4. Before and after the event, read the story through again.
  5. Reflect together on how the event went.

How to write Social Stories:

You will need to use different types of sentences when writing a Social Story, this is to help the child understand the story in as much detail as possible and to cover all aspects of the interaction.

Here are some different types of sentences you will need to use when writing a Social Story:

  1. Descriptive sentences: These describe unwritten rules of what happens, where and why. For example: ‘Mrs May helps all the children who sit on the same table as me with their work. When she is helping someone, she stands by them.’
  2. Perspective sentences: These sentences identify the reactions of others and why they might think and feel that way. For example: ‘I like it when Mrs May works with me because she helps me to understand what to do. This helps me to stay calm and not get upset or cross. Other children like Mrs May to work with them too so they don’t get upset or stuck with their work.’
  3. Directive/coaching sentences: These sentences explain what behaviour is expected or wanted as a response to the situation and why. They need to incorporate positive expectations, for example: ‘When Mrs May is working with someone else, I will try to stay quiet and do my work.’
  4. Affirmative sentences: These sentences state the reason for the desired behaviour, for example ‘Mrs May is happy when I do this.’

Top tips for writing Social Stories:

  1. Ensure there are more descriptive and perspective sentences than directive/coaching sentences.
  2. Each story must have a single, clear focus.
  3. Each sentence needs to be clear and concise.
  4. Avoid terms like ‘always’ – use words such as ‘usually’ or ‘try to’, in case things don’t happen as expected.


This information is based on Carol Gray’s Social Stories™ concept:

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