What's the Story, Morning Glory? Social Stories for Students with Autism

by Kristin Holst, M.Ed.

Once upon a time a new school year began. For many of the fresh-faced, eager learners this was an exhilarating time of the year. For others, however, it was a dark time of uncertainty, transition, and change ...

Students with autism have an extremely difficult time adjusting to change. When coupled with deficits in receptive and expressive communication skills, they often experience profound behavioral difficulties in social situations. For many students with autism, developing rapport with their teacher can take almost an entire school year. Just as these students have reached a level of comfort, they progress to the next grade level and have to start the acclimation process all over again with an entirely new teacher and new expectations. Social stories offer a way to ease this transition by bringing a sense of predictability to a new environment that may seem confusing and scary (Gray, 1998).

A social story gives a student cues and a set of specific responses to use when confronted with a situation, skill, or concept. Social stories are personalized to the student, and may be written by anyone who has a vested interest in the student (Gray, 2005). Initially designed to consist of text only, social stories may be accompanied by pictures (Crozier & Sileo, 2005).

Social stories are comprised of four basic sentence types: descriptive, perspective, directive, and affirmative. Descriptive sentences set up the situation being addressed. Perspective sentences detail the feelings and internal states of other people. Directive statements gently outline appropriate responses that may be used in the situation. Finally, affirmative statements reinforce the values of the culture in some way (Gray, 2000). Gray recommends using the following ratio of these sentences: For every directive sentence, there must be two to five descriptive, perspective and/or affirmative sentences. See Figure 1 for an example of a social story. Sentence types are noted for illustration, but would not be included in the student's copy of the story.

Social stories should be reviewed with students regularly. A student may be asked to read her social story immediately preceding the targeted situation (e.g., right before the bus ride home, if the student engages in unsafe behavior on the bus), or first thing in the morning with only the highlights reviewed prior to the targeted situation. As the student experiences success, the review sessions may be faded until they are no longer needed.

A social story is a valuable tool in helping students with autism adapt to change. A number of other strategies are available for similar purposes, including picture schedules and comic strip conversations. That, dear readers, is a story for another time ...

References

Crozier, S., & Sileo, N.M. (2005). Encouraging positive behavior with social stories: An intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders. Teaching Exceptional Children, 37(6), 26-31.
Gray, C.A. (1998). Social stories and comic strip conversations with students with Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism. In E. Schopler, G.B. Mesibov, & L.J. Kunce (Eds.), Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism? (pp.167-168). New York: Plenum Press.
Gray, C.A. (Ed.). (2000). The new social story book: Illustrated edition. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons, Inc.
Gray, C.A. (2005). What is a social story? The Gray Center: Retrieved August 2, 2005, from http://www.thegraycenter.org/page.asp?catID=3&sctID=25.

Figure 1. Sample Social Story for a Student Who Has a New Teacher

My New Teacher

I am in fifth grade and have a new teacher. (descriptive)

She has different rules than my old teacher. (descriptive)

Sometimes people are scared when they meet somebody new. (perspective)

My old teacher talked to my new teacher. (descriptive)

He told her what I like to do and don't like to do. (descriptive)

That way my new teacher knows how to help me. (perspective)

I will try to treat my new teacher like I treated my old teacher. (directive)

I will try to listen to my new teacher and follow her rules. (directive)

School is fun when everyone follows the rules. (affirmative)

Date: September/October 2005