Social narratives or social stories can be a valuable and effective tool in teaching children new behaviors. In addition, you can easily add an art and creativity component to the creation of social stories with your clients.
Social Stories were first developed by Carol Gray and are often used with children with autism spectrum disorders to teach new skills and appropriate behavior. Social stories may also be referred to as social narratives or social scripts.
Many therapists, counselors, parents, and teachers are not taught about creating social narratives, so I thought it would be helpful to share this information. In my practice and at my previous jobs I have often worked with child with autism or Asperger’s and have found social narratives to be incredibly helpful. In addition, the social narrative concept can be easily applied to children without autism spectrum disorders in order to help them to learn new skills and behaviors. Social stories can be created to address just about any topic, including social skills, managing emotions, activities of daily living, and school tasks. I even have a social story about coming to therapy, as well as a visual routine for the activities in the therapy session.
How To Write A Social Story Or Social Narrative:
1. Identify the goal and use this in the title (e.g., “When I Get Frustrated” or “Playing Nicely With Others”).
2. Describe the situation, give a directive for the appropriate behavior, and explain why using the following types of sentences.
- Descriptive: where the situation occurs, with whom, when, etc.
- Perspective: the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of others
- Directive: describes the behavior to be done in a positive, flexible manner (e.g., “I will try to,” “I might,” or “I can”)
- Affirmative: reinforces the previous sentences (e.g., “This is important” or “This is okay)
- Cooperative: identifies who can help with the situation
3. Add photos, clipart, or drawings to illustrate the story and provide visual cues.
I also like to include a reinforcement or positive consequence statements (e.g., “Mom will be proud,” “I will feel happy,” or “I will get a reward, like playing video games”). According to the official social story ratio, there should be no more than one directive sentence for every 2-5 other sentences. The important thing to keep in mind with this is that the narrative should not simply be a list of directives, but should include other sentences to help the child understand why to do something.
The format for printing the story can be adapted for the child or the situation in which they will use it. I often print stories on one or two pages with small illustrations added. Printing the story on small cards, laminating these, and linking them together with a ring makes the social story easily carried to school or in the community for reference.
Using the Social Narrative:
Introduce the new social story in therapy and read with the child. Update or customize the story as needed (e.g., identifying a reward to be earned by the child when they are successful). Then send the story home to be reviewed often as the new skill is learned. Social stories are often recommended to be read everyday for a week or so and then faded out. Stories for specific situations can be reviewed before entering the situation (e.g., a story about going to the doctor or visiting a friend’s house) or as needed to refresh the child’s memory about the skill. Some of my young clients (both on the spectrum and not) like to keep stories about managing emotions, relaxation skills, and coping strategies in their bedroom so that they can take a break when upset and then review the story themselves as they calm down.
As I create new social stories, I keep them on my computer so that they can easily be changed or customized for each client. Children love to have their name incorporated into the story, even if it is just the title (e.g., “John Goes to the Dentist”). I often use clipart images or stock photos/illustrations, but if you are able, you can further customize the story by adding pictures of the child demonstrating the behavior.
Art and Creativity:
Depending on the age, abilities, and interest of the child, you can consider having them work on their own illustrations for the story in their therapy session. Or, in a family session, each family member can contribute a picture. For some of my clients, we will write the story together in session and then I will print the pages for them to add drawings. Of course, be aware of the child’s drawing ability. The pictures should serve as helpful reminders of what to do and a non-representational scribble is not likely to be helpful for this. Illustrations can also be tailored by the child to fit their interests, such as showing a favorite cartoon character doing the behavior. Another option is to work together to create a helpful comic strip using an online comic builder like Make Beliefs Comix.
To learn more about social stories, here are a few helpful websites:
The Gray Center
The National Autistic Society: Social Stories and Comic Strip Conversations (UK)
Carolyn Mehlomakulu, LMFT-S, ATR is an art therapist in Austin, Texas who works with children, teens, and families. For more information about individual therapy, teen and child counseling, family therapy, teen group therapy, and art therapy services, please visit: www.therapywithcarolyn.com.
This blog is not intended to diagnose or treat any mental health conditions. All directives, interventions, and ideas should be used by qualified individuals within the appropriate bounds of their education, training, and scope of practice. Information presented in this blog does not replace professional training in child and family therapy, art therapy, or play therapy.
This blog includes affiliate links (see full disclosure here). If you’d like to help support the blog without any extra cost to you, please click through on Amazon links and shop as you normally would. Your support is greatly appreciated!