Exploring the fun world of social stories

By Kate Reid, 24 April 2018 , Comments

In the disability world there are many resources that are used to support people with disability and their families. Some can be quite clinical, while others, like social stories, open up a world of fun.

While you may have heard the term social story used in disability circles, you may not know exactly what they are, how they are used, or more importantly, how to create one.

To get the lowdown on this valuable tool, we spoke to Northcott’s Behaviour Support Team.

What is a social story?

A social story is a short and engaging description of a real life situation, event or process that is customised to suit the individual. This allows the reader to see exactly what they can expect when they go through a new situation or event, and provides the reader with information about new environments, new settings and new processes.

When are they used?

A social story can be used in a range of different scenarios. For example, it may be used when a child goes from preschool to primary school, when a child attends their first dentist appointment, or to explain a new morning routine. Another way they can be used is as a coping strategy. For example a story about why daddy has to go away for work, or an explanation of life events like attending their sister’s wedding, or grandma’s funeral.

Who are they used for?

Social stories can be used throughout a person’s lifespan – from childhood to adulthood. In adulthood, social stories are mainly used for people that have moderate intellectual disability. People with mild intellectual disability can usually read, and those with more severe intellectual disability are unable to sequence that amount of information, so different tools would be more appropriate.

Those that tend to benefit most from social stories are people with autism and down syndrome in the moderate range.

What are the benefits of creating a social story?

Using pictures, photos and words that are specific to the individual can help create familiarity. Unlike other stories, a social story can be personalised for each person’s needs. Social stories convey a consistent message and are transportable, so they can be used by a range of individuals including parents, health professionals and teachers. For example, when the child goes to school and the teacher knows they are anxious about an event, the social story can be handed over to the teacher to ensure they are conveying the same message that parents are conveying at home.

The great thing about social stories is that they are very kid-friendly. So many resources in disability are clinical or medical, or a process that’s aimed at an adult, whereas a social story can be quite fun and enjoyable. Using photos of the individual creates that personal link and over the long-term social stories can be kept as a form of memoir.

Tips for creating a social story

  • Chat to a speech pathologist or behaviour support team who can assist you with the creation of a social story.
  • If you create a physical social story, it’s a good idea to get it laminated. That way it will last longer and a whiteboard marker can be used to write on it e.g. to tick off days of the week.
  • If you decide to create a digital version there are many online resources that provide templates of social stories. These resources are already set up with the correct wording for a range of scenarios, so all you have to do is insert your own photos and the names of your child and the other individuals involved in the event.
  • A social story works best when it is tailored to the individual so it’s important to understand the person’s level of comprehension. Some may respond better to images, while others understand words and images.
  • Ensure it is an Australian website/resource as terms will differ if using a resource from overseas.
  • Most importantly, keep it positive. Explain and encourage ‘good’ behaviour rather than discouraging ‘bad’ behaviour.

Related Content

Need support around managing behaviour at social events? Check out our party plan story.


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