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Social Skills, Social Stories and Autism

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Updated May 29, 2009

Question: Social Skills, Social Stories and Autism
What are social stories, and how can they help a child with autism to improve his social skills?
Answer: In its most general meaning, a social story is a story written for a person with social skills deficits to help pave the way for a positive social interaction or behavior. Social stories are written by therapists, teachers and parents to prepare children (and sometimes adults) for experiences as varied as toothbrushing, job interviews, trips to grandma's, and lining up for recess.

Often, caregivers will create social stories to help promote positive interactions in a school or family setting. Generic social stories are available to help children plan for transitions, ask appropriate questions, and even look others in the eye. Some contain images, including photos, to help make the story's content and purpose clearer.

While the expression "social story" is now widely used, however, it is actually a trademarked term for a tool created by therapist Carol Gray. Gray and her colleagues have developed books of social stories and tools for creating your own social stories -- along with "comic strip" social stories and social story DVDs.

Gray's social stories look simple but are actually quite carefully constructed. As a result, many teachers and therapists create their own social stories that look similar to the real deal, but in fact are quite different. For example, many teachers and parents create social stories to instruct children how to change their behavior. But according to Gray's 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. The goal of a Social Story is to share accurate social information in a patient and reassuring manner that is easily understood by its audience. Half of all Social Stories developed should affirm something that an individual does well. Although the goal of a Story should never be to change the individual’s behavior, that individual’s improved understanding of events and expectations may lead to more effective responses.

Sources:

Crozier S, Tincani M. Effects of Social Stories on Prosocial Behavior of Preschool Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. J Autism Dev Disord. 2006 Dec 13.

Hutchins TL, Prelock PA. Using social stories and comic strip conversations to promote socially valid outcomes for children with autism. Semin Speech Lang. 2006 Feb;27(1):47-59. Reynhout G, Carter M. Social Stories for children with disabilities. J Autism Dev Disord. 2006 May;36(4):445-69. Scattone D, Wilczynski SM, Edwards RP, Rabian B. Decreasing disruptive behaviors of children with autism using social stories. J Autism Dev Disord. 2002 Dec;32(6):535-43. Thiemann KS, Goldstein H. Social stories, written text cues, and video feedback: effects on social communication of children with autism. J Appl Behav Anal. 2001 Winter;34(4):425-46.

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