Social Stories What are they and do they really work?

Social Stories are a strategy often used when working with children with ASD to meet the needs related to social, behavioral, and communication issues.

Social Stories help break more difficult concepts into more simple ones. This is needed because ...

According to the CDC (CDC, 2016), the rate of autism has increased over the past ten years. In 2000 1 in 150 children were identified, now in 2016 it is 1 in 68 children.
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-V is defined as a neurodevelopment disorder leading to impairments in verbal or nonverbal social communications, social interactions, and restricted interests, activities, or repetitive behavior that significantly impair social, occupational, or other areas essential to function in society (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

Students with ASD have difficulty with unstructured time that is outside the classroom. They are more likely to be rejected by their peers and have difficulties making friends.

Social Stories can be written by parents, teachers, friends, counselors, and can be a collaboration with the student.

Carol Gray developed Social Stories in 1993.

Social Stories have been used with...
  • Decreasing undesirable behaviors
  • Difficulty with transitions
  • Frustrations with school work
  • Aggression with peers
  • Talking at inappropriate times
  • Shouting or screaming
  • Overall increasing more prosocial behaviors

Social Stories are written in a positive manner and using positive language.

  • Written in first person, the perspective of the student.
  • Flexible language is used (i.e. usually, often times).
  • Can contain real images of the student, classroom, home, etc.
  • Once implemented, Social Stories should be monitored so necessary changes can be made.

Parents, teachers, and counselors see the benefits of social stories in helping children with ASD. However, more research is needed.

4 journal articles were read and analyzed to learn more about what the research says about social stories

"Social Stories for Children with Disabilities"

Reynhout, G., and Carter, M. (2006). Social Stories for Children with Disabilities. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Vol. 36, Nov. 4, May 2006, 445-469.

"Comparing Social Stories to Cool Versus Not Cool"

Leaf, J. B. & Mitchell, E. & Townley-Cochran, D. & McEachin, J. & Taubman, M. & Leaf, R. (2016). Comparing Social Stories™ to Cool Versus Not Cool. Education and Treatment of Children 39(2), 173-185. West Virginia University Press. Retrieved October 8, 2016, from Project MUSE database.

"Using Social Stories for Students on the Autism Spectrum: Teacher Perspectives"

Dev, P.C. (2014). Using Social Stories for Students on the Autism Spectrum: Teacher Perspectives. Pastoral Care in Education, 32(4), 284-294

"School Counselors' Roles in Creating and Implementing Social Stories to Serve Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder"

Goodman-Scott, E., & Carlisle, Robert,PhD., N.C.C. (2015). School Counselors' Roles in Creating And Implementing Social Stories to Serve Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Professional School Counseling, 18(1), 158-168.

A Review of Empirical Research on Social Stories

16 studies

Descriptive Review and a single subject meta review

  • 12 of the 16 studies were single subject design.
  • Behaviors, types of sentences used (i.e. descriptive, perspective, affirmative, directive, control, cooperative, and consequence) were noted.
  • Additionally, category of social story, comprehension and additional strategies were noted.


The cognitive skills and communication ability were not always noted in these studies

Social Stories are found to be more effective with highly functioning children with ASD.

  • Some of the studies showed effective results using Social Stories, whereas many did not.
  • Overall, the indication was that Social Stories were ineffective.
  • The use of rewards and consequences may have impacted the results for some studies.
  • Social Stories were not used for curriculum based changes in this meta review.
  • Types of sentences used in Social Stories was analyzed, however no clear evidence showed whether this had an impact.
  • Visual and verbal prompting may have had an impact on the effectiveness of Social Stories.
  • The use of more than one Social Story and frequency could impact the data.
It is obvious that Social Stories are multifaceted interventions. It is unclear from the present review that the prescribed (and complex) story construction is necessary to the efficacy of the intervention, which components are critical to effectiveness and whether Social Stories necessarily add to the effectiveness of other interventions. The confounding of Social Story interventions with other strategies is a problem in many existing studies.

Comparing the Cool Versus not Cool procedure to Social Stories

cool versus not cool procedure

This allows the teacher to demonstrate the target behavior in both ways. The cool and appropriate way, and the not cool and inappropriate way. The student gets to figure out if a teacher is demonstrating the cool way, or the not cool way. The student also gets to act out and role play.

The Study

Single subject design using a highly functioning 7 year old boy with ASD in the first grade.

6 different social skills were selected to be tested

The skills would be taught either with Social Stories or the Cool Versus not Cool procedure. This was randomly assigned.

  • Losing graciously
  • Interrupting appropriately
  • Empathy
  • Stopping to talk
  • Changing the game when someone is bored
  • Sportsmanship

Three conditions: baseline, intervention, and maintenance


cool versus not cool procedure

The subject was able to reach 100% of the skills taught with CNC.

social stories

None of the skills were taught with Social Stories.

It may be the case that Social Stories leads to some improvement in the more basic skill specific steps of social behavior (e.g. facing the person) but may not lead to acquisition of the entire social behavior.

Using Social Stories on the Autism Spectrum: Teacher Perspectives

This is a qualitative study in which 6 teachers were interviewed to determine how they created social stories and to obtain an understanding of their perspective of the impact

The teachers interviewed all had higher education (5 Masters Degrees and one PhD). Two teachers had been using Social Stories for about a year, one for over 15 years. All of the participants learned how to use Social Stories by developing them, although some of them learned about them through graduate courses.

these teachers found using social stories effective

  • Initial frustration with creating the stories, as they could take up to 4 hours to make!
  • Some form of education or training to create Social Stories is recommended.
  • The medium of the story should be a good fit for the child, and taking into consideration the target behavior.
  • Using Social Stories, along with other strategies is helpful.
Social Stories by themselves are not always enough to increase desired behaviors and decrease undesirable ones. When teachers used Social Stories in combination with other strategies, for example, peer-modeling or teacher prompts, the positive impact on student behaviors was more noticeable than with stories alone.

School Counselors' Roles in Creating and Implementing Social Stories to Serve Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

School counselors often have to work with children with asd to help them sort through social difficulties

This is an action research project to analyze the impact of a school counselor using Social Stories to help one student with ASD.

  • Single subject an elementary student with ASD in third grade.
  • Gabriel was in a general education classroom and received pull out and small group services.
  • In the middle of his third grade year, Gabriel began having emotional outbursts and would refuse to participate in doing assignments.
  • It was learned that his parents were going through a divorce.

the school counselor with help from the parents and child created a social story

Together they wrote a Social Story using Microsoft Word and photographs. The school counselor continued to meet with the child and they would read the story together. The parents would also read the story to him, and he was given a calendar that listed his daily transportation and after care routine, as well as sleeping location.

Gabriel's behaviors decreased as a result of the social story.

School counselors are in a position to be at the frontline of schools' efforts, working with students, teachers, and parents to meet the unique needs of students with ASD. To this end, Social Stories can be a helpful intervention in school counselors' professional toolbox.
Four research articles about Social Stories offering different perspectives.

In conclusion, there may need to be more research to prove that Social Stories are effective when used to change behaviors of a student with ASD. However, teachers and counselors use Social Stories every day and there is value in reading a story that connects the learner right in through pictures and careful wording. As learners ourselves, we learn from reading and hearing stories. More reinforcement may be needed to put these learnings into action, but it can be done. Furthermore, the stories themselves provide an understanding as to why they are being asked or expected to behave a certain way. Understanding is an important part of behavior change, and then adding in prompts, verbal and visual cues, reinforcement and consequences, will only help to strengthen the student in performing expected behaviors.

By, Karen Marciano


Created with images by BLW Photography - "74/365 - autism awareness." • KOMUnews - "Autism Rally" • stevendepolo - "Angry Girl Frown May 13, 20102" • - "Girl reading a book" • xMizLitx - "IMG_1128" • htemske - "IMG_7234" • Son of Groucho - "Bad Behaviour 1" • Hermann - "books education school" • cherylholt - "girl young beautiful" • BenedictFrancis - "Study" • cherylholt - "girls children kids" • Greyerbaby - "boy child playing" • DariuszSankowski - "knowledge book library" • wjarrettc - "Story time" • jwright4701 - "florida sunset"

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