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Friday 28 Oct 2016

Social Stories for Students with Autism

Social Stories™ were developed by Carol Gray in 1991. She was a special education teacher who worked with students with autism. She is now the Director of The Gray Center for Social Learning and Understanding in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “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.” (From The Gray Center Website)

Since their development there have been many research studies investigating the impact of social stories on skill development for students with autism.

In 2008, Jeffrey M. Chan and Mark F. O’Reilly published the results of their study which involved 2 students with autism and a Social Stories Intervention Package used in an inclusion setting. The package consisted of three steps: (1) Read the story, (2) Answer comprehension questions, and (3) Role-play the social situation. All steps of the intervention were conducted outside of the classroom setting. They found that the social behaviors increased and inappropriate behaviors decreased for both students and the effects maintained over time.

In 2007, Shannon Crozier and Matt Tincani published the results of their study which investigated the use of social stories on the Prosocial Behavior of 3 preschoolers with autism. The intervention consisted of either reading the story only or reading the story plus verbal prompts during the target activity. They found that one student responded well to the social story alone and the positive effects maintained over time. One of the students improved when the social story was read but the effects did not maintain over time. The third child did not respond positively when the social story was read by itself, he required prompting during the target activity to positively effect his behavior.

In 2006, Georgina Reynhout and Mark Carter published a review of the research literature regarding the use of social stories. They found that overall the effects seen due to intervention were highly variable. They reported that many studies used a combination of intervention methods which makes it difficult to determine what role the social story played in behavioral improvements. They also found that data showing maintenance and generalization of skills taught using interventions based on social story use was limited. They conclude that social stories are a promising intervention method, but more rigorous research needs to be conducted.

For more information about how to write and implement social stories, visit these pages:

The New Social Stories Book: 10th Anniversary Edition

Social story examples from PolyXO

Social story examples from Kids Can Dream


  1. C. S. Wyatt says:

    I have never understood social stories, role playing, or any of these approaches. I don’t get it at all. It’s just plain frustrating. I’ve been told I was wasn’t “trying hard enough” to understand. Whatever. I ended up trying to guess the “right” answers enough to shut-up the evaluator / education counselor and get on with things.

    I suppose I’m less skilled than a preschooler.

    I’ve argued about the lack of evidence at conferences and academic seminars. How often would we accept a study of three students in my field of language cognition? Never. We aren’t even happy with studies of 48 students. But a private company selling Social Stories gets by with studies like these.

    Maybe they do work, maybe not. I’m wondering if the sheer time spent in conversation isn’t helping the young minds develop. Plus, at least one study on Social Studies I’ve read had several students withdraw from the cohort, which raised questions in my mind. What if those quitting did so because there was no improvement?

    A lot of questions, as with so much research. Not many answers. If the time helps, for whatever reason, I suppose that’s a good thing.

    • Avatar of
      Abby says:

      Thanks for the comment C.S. You have a point about the time spent in conversation, it may have a positive effect on social behaviors by itself; that’s why more research needs to be done to parse out which component of the intervention was effective and to what extent (there definitely could be compounded effects). Also, just like with any intervention strategy, there are some individuals it may work for and others for which it has little to no effect. In my experience, social stories interventions many times combine a few components which are effective with individuals with autism: priming for upcoming activities, clear expectations, repeated practice, visual cues, social scripts and positive reinforcement. Which part of the intervention package produces the largest effect? That is not clearly understood, which is why I’m with you… if it helps, that’s a good thing. The important thing for teachers, interventionists and parents to understand though is data needs to be collected on the specific behaviors on which we’re trying to intervene so we know that there is positive change occurring as a result of the intervention even if we don’t know the specific component which is driving change. Data needs to be collected because if NO CHANGE is occurring, then the intervention needs to be changed. No change means that the time spent implementing the intervention is being wasted, and we as educators do not have time to waste!

      • C. S. Wyatt says:

        Look at the absolutely ridiculous page in the photo: “My teachers will be happy when I am calm.”

        You must be kidding me? So I’m supposed to be in utter agony, overstimulated with a migraine starting, and it’s more important that I have “happy” teachers? I wasn’t able to explain my physical pains, and often still struggle to explain what hurts and why. As a result, I can and do have meltdowns. Not ideal for a 40+ year-old adult.

        No, I am not going to understand why I should suffer so they can be happy. That’s not a reasonable, logical request or demand. In fact, it reminds me how much I despised being told such nonsense as a child. I’m reminded of a broken foot I endured because “calm” was so important — and that was as an adult. Ah, the power of brainwashing people. Condition autistics like puppy dogs and we’ll be compliant, but screaming in agony internally.

        Social Stories are right up there with other “therapies” in my book — all about making me something I’m not. Decades of trying, and generally failing, to overcome my inherent nature. I’m starting to finally understand some of the anger self-advocates express. That’s not healthy, either.

        • Avatar of
          Abby says:

          In the National Autism Center’s National Standards Report, story based intervention packages were determined to be one of the 11 established treatment options for individuals with autism to help teach interpersonal skills and self-regulation. These are both socially significant skill sets which can help individuals lead successful and fulfilling lives. The key here is that the interventions are being used to teach important skills, not to “brainwash” or to “condition autistics like puppy dogs”. I’m sorry that you’ve had negative experiences in your past which have lead you to think that all interventions have these aims. In my experience, and in my profession, intervention based on the scientific principles of applied behavior analysis is simply good teaching. We are applying the science of learning to teach skills which are important for the individual to learn in order to be successful in their lives whatever that means to them, not make them something they’re not.

          I appreciate you sharing your opinion on this issue. It’s important for all members of the community to be aware of how different issues are perceived by others within the community. The more that we are able to openly dialog, the better we will become at addressing everyone’s concerns.

          Sincerely, Abby

          • C. S. Wyatt says:

            As an education researcher, I just don’t trust studies of three to five subjects. That the minimal research on Social Stories indicates only partial, and sometimes temporary success, is somewhat representative of other research in education and autism.

            During my dissertation, one of the *requirements* was at least 48, and ideally more, subjects to have statistical significance eligible for generalization about autism and learning. I couldn’t use three or four case studies and earn the doctorate, yet much of our published research falls far short of statistical significance. The “science of learning” (whatever disciplines publish on pedagogy) tend towards what in other fields would be considered pilot studies.

            While my personal experiences and observations as a person with autism raise questions in my mind, so does the nature of the published research, which I do consider lacking. That doesn’t mean there is no research, but it does mean that too much of the research is incomplete or lacks sufficiently broad replication.

            I’m not merely an autistic person recounting bad experience. I am a Ph.D. in pedagogy and language education with a quantitative research background. Too often, the autism community races from one study to the next, trying to learn more, but the studies are just not deep or broad enough to be more than statistical suggestions for future study.

            Also, calling something the “National Autism Center” implies it is somehow a federally endorsed or larger organization than it is. It might or might not be an honorable group (I do not know the organization), but it is a non-profit associated with yet another non-profit. The name potentially implies to parents and care givers a standing beyond what it actually has. You might know NAC is not associated with any government body, but the name sounds like “National Institute of Mental Health” (which is a government body). Names of organizations are seldom accidental.

            NAC (or any non-profit) endorsing anything doesn’t mean anything to me, as a researcher. Even if I admire a non-profit, a non-profit generally has a bias it was founded to support.

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