#358 Writing Social Stories for Toddlers

In this show, we’re talking about guidelines for writing social stories for toddlers with language delays.

Listen here:

Written summary:

Lots of educators and therapists use the generic (but trademarked!) term Social Story to represent all kinds of stories we write for little friends. They are more accurately called Routine Scripts and Rule Books. I recently watched a nice presentation of this information by ­­­­­­ Dr. Pam Buschbacher, SLP. There’s also treat information about Social Stories at autismspeaks.com and on Pinterest.

If the term social story is new for you, let me give a little history from her website. Social Stories were developed by Carol Gray in the 1990’s to help increase predictability for kids with autism and other developmental delays/disorders. She was the first teacher for students with autism at Jenison Public Schools in Jenison, Michigan 1977-2004.  In 1989, she began writing stories for her students to share information with them that they seemed to be missing, information that so many of us take for granted.  Many of the stories resulted in immediate and marked improvement in her students’ responses to daily events and interactions. Her website is very helpful. carolgraysocialstories.com

Social stories are written in a special format providing accurate information about those situations that they may find difficult or confusing. This tool has proven to be effective for ages preschool through adulthood.

Examples of social stories include:

School Topics – Going to Gym, Taking Turns with Toys, My Teacher is Absent Today, Riding the Bus Home

Home Topics – My Birthday Party, My New Baby Brother, or Taking Medicine

Community Topics – Going to the Doctor, Waiting in Line at the Store

A Social Story accurately describes a context, skill, achievement, or concept according to 10 defining criteria. These criteria guide Story research, development, and implementation to ensure an overall patient and supportive quality, and a format, “voice”, content, and learning experience that is descriptive, meaningful, and physically, socially, and emotionally safe for the child, adolescent, or adult with autism.

As I mentioned previously, Social Story is a trademark term because there are the specific criteria. When I look at the criteria, lots of the little books I’ve written over the years don’t actually meet that full criteria. Therapists and educators have generalized the collective term social story to include routine scripts and rule books which are so helpful for visual toddlers I’ve worked with. Routine Scripts and Rule Books are picture heavy books with some text of everyday activities, some familiar and some unfamiliar.  They purpose is to help a young child organize his/her understanding of the routine & their world, diminish anxiety and/or confusion, and guide then through the routine.

Why go to this trouble? Why are Routine Scripts and Rule Books important? (from Dr. Buschbacher presentation)

  1. Routine Scripts enable children to understand & predict the order of events for an activity or explain the “method to the madness.”
  2. Routine Scripts serve as scaffolds for the child’s active participation in the activity.
  3. Routine Scripts support children in developing a meaningful vocabulary for the activity.
  4. Routine Scripts can link children with different communication and interaction partners.
  5. Routine Scripts build joint attention.
  6. Routine Script knowledge enables children to remember the most predictable features of an event or activity explaining the facts – what, who, where, when, what they are doing. Think about it as an outline of the event.
  7. Routine Script knowledge enables children to identify optional features.
  8. Routine Scripts encourage adults and others to perform the routines in the same manner which is super helpful in increasing predictability for a child and other caregivers.


Guidelines for Writing Social Stories

Determine your problem.  What is it you are trying to teach? You should only have one goal per Social Story, and it should be very clear – one topic or event.

Be a detective. For therapists – interview/decide. Gather all the information you need to write your Social Story.

Begin to write/edit the story using the right language level. Adjust your vocabulary and sentence length based on the receptive language developmental level of the child.

Stories should be written in the first or third person from the child’s point of view. (You can use “I” sentences and also names of others like Mommy, Teacher’s Name, Sibling, Peer, or even the child’s name.)

Sentence types include:

Descriptive sentences including Who, What, When, Where, and Why of your story such as “I ride the bus to school every morning.”

Perspective sentences including how the child may react and feel such as “Sometimes I get scared when I hear the fire alarm.”

Directive sentences including what’s expected of the child. Identify positive responses and gently direct a child’s behavior such as “I can pat my baby brother when he’s crying. I can kiss his head too!”

Affirmative sentences including things like “Staying calm when I get a haircut is good.”

Carrier phrases you’ll read as “fill in the blank” such as “When I see my friends at school, I say __________!” (Good morning!) These sentences help to teach a child what to say.

Offer other behavior options like “I can ask my teacher for help.” Or “I can go sit in the quiet corner when I need a break.”

Other tips – Try gentle language and avoid absolute words like always and never. For example, say things like sometimes, usually, most of the time, etc…

Keep your wording super positive written with what the child should do – not tons of “Don’t!” or “No Rules.” Rather than “Don’t tear up the books,” write “I am very careful when I turn the pages.” Instead of “No hitting” or “No biting,” give the alternative… “When I want a turn, I say “My turn.” Address these negatives with the perspective sentences… “When I hit my friends, it hurts them and they might cry or hit me back. Then I might cry because hitting hurts me too.”

Provide simple steps. When providing directions for a task, break the skill or situation down into simple steps a toddler can follow. Remember that young children with language delays are very literal, so don’t skip the steps. A child may not pick up on things you take for granted.

Include photos. Children are often visual learners, so try to incorporate real pictures of the child and the actual place or objects used whenever possible.

Read the story together with as few distractions as possible. I read the story several times during a session with a child and encourage mom and dad to do the same. You may also have a child read the story with other people too like teachers or grandparents.

Do the event/activity together so that you can revise or edit the story as needed.

More from autismparentingmagazine.com/social-stories-for-autistic-children/


Social Stories for Autism – The Ultimate Guide

Posted in


Leave a Comment

Sign Up for your Free eBook

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

Subscribe to the Podcast in iTunes

Browse Products

Featured Product

Recent Posts

Teach Me To Talk Testimonials

Happy Therapists, Teachers, Parents & Children

"I purchased the book on autism and have watched the #400s series podcasts. Laura Mize has been more effective in teaching autistic tendencies, than many professors, shadowing professions, and the 100s of books, articles and classes or videos, or live workshop speakers, have been at teaching effective practices for a child with ASD. Some of the many lessons she has taught, which I will now use, to be a more effective Interventionist, include but are not limited to: red flags, typical behaviors, self-stimulating behaviors, not taking away toys, rather showing child to play with toy appropriately. She gives examples of child's actions, "inappropriate," explains the reason for: why the child is engaging in these behaviors and how they can be replaced with more appropriate, effective fuctional and age-appropriate skills."

"I’m sure Laura gets these messages all the time, but I thought I’d share. I stumbled across Laura‘s "Autism or Speech Delay?" YouTube video when I really needed it. This video finally listed and explained some of the red flags my son was showing for autism. I share the link anytime a parent is questioning in my FB autism group. This mother I don’t even know said Laura's video changed her life. I know exactly how she feels because It changed families too. Thank you to everyone at Teach Me To Talk."


"Good Morning Laura,
I received your book (The Autism Workbook) yesterday and it is absolutely amazing! As I evaluate young children (0-3) for developmental delays and write plans for them with their parents, there are a ton of ideas that are ready to use. Others that reinforce what I have been doing, and saying, all along. Thank you so, so much for writing this incredible book and pulling everything together in one place!"


"Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge, experience, and guidance.
I’m a parent who bought the autism workbook and it’s the only clear resource I found to make a change in my son. I’m really thankful to Ms. Laura for helping out people like us all over the world."

"Laura Mize, all I have to say is that ALL YOUR STRATEGIES WORK."

ANNE, YouTube viewer

"We have 7 SLPs in our preschool (public) program for special needs children (ages 3-5) and we use your courses, books, and techniques every day! :-) We have seen our preschoolers make such great gains!"


"I just received Teach Me to Play With You, and it is ALREADY WORKING! WOW!

Girl…my son is 3 years old, and he NEVER asks for something using words. We were playing “Get Your Belly” (from Teach Me to Play WITH You), and after several times, he laughed and screamed "BEWIEEE!!!"  It was a hoot. And I can't believe he said it! I have played with him like this before, but this time I took your advice and acted CRAZY!! I will act like a total lunatic if it will get him to talk to me!  Now I can give him "the look" from across the room, and he will say it. That manual is so amazingly practical, and it is a GODSEND right now! Thank you SO MUCH!”

"I wanted to send you a quick email to say thank you. I started watching your videos/podcasts about 4 months ago. My son has gone from losing words he previously used, only having about 7 words at his 2 year check up in August (assessed at a blended 10 month language level) -- to now having so many words, increased social engagement, following commands, spontaneously requesting things, and naming letters & numbers (not in order) as well as colors. We had our monthly meeting with our SLP through the state infants & toddlers program and it felt like we were just bragging the whole time, but I knew in the back of my head it was because I have been using strategies you taught me.

We still have so much work to do with our sweet boy, but I know in my heart he would not have succeeded without the education you provided. I will continue to read your emails & watch videos as we go along this journey and face challenges, but credit is due to you, Laura.

Thank you so much, endlessly."


"I just want to tell how fortunate I feel to have found your website and you!! I became a special instructor in EI almost a year ago and I started with hardly any applicable training. I felt so lost and confused as how to help the kids I work with learn how to use words and play. Honestly, I didn't even understand the importance of play, although I always played with my kids. But, once I started to watch your podcasts and get some of your manuals I felt a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and that I could finally teach these kids and their families something of value from a real therapist and based on research!. Thank you so much for seeing the need to help other EI service providers and providing a forum to share your knowledge and years of valuable experience. I'm sure you get a lot of these emails every week if not every day, but I wanted to make I could add to those notes of gratitude!! THANK YOU again!!"


"Just wanted to say a HUGE thank you for these emails and your books, I have them all and they have seriously saved and improved my sessions with my kiddos. Huge thank you."


"I was very frustrated with how speech therapy was going for my child. I would take him and drop him off and not hear much of anything from his therapist and teachers other than, "He had a good (or a bad!) day." Your materials were invaluable for us because I learned how to work with him on his speech. I learned how to teach him to talk and play. I learned how to pay attention to his cues and work with him to teach him to communicate. Without it, I have no doubt he still wouldn’t talk."


"Hi! I just wanted to say (from an SLT perspective) how incredibly useful I am finding absolutely all of your articles, blogs and resources - I only discovered your site last month and have just received all your books which I feel I am learning more than on my entire university training course!! But also the way in which you give specific, realistic, fun, encouraging ideas for working with parents is really just fantastic, I only wish I have your site sooner! Thanks so much from the UK! Kind regards."


"I just wanted to reach out to say thank you for making things a little easier to manage for me this year. I made the transition from school SLP to private therapist about a year ago. While the change was welcome, it was a lot, and I was just getting my footing in the clinic when I began teletherapy full time. Your website has been a huge lifeline in helping me work with late talkers and coach their parents in an accessible but effective way, even remotely. I look forward to getting your emails each week. I am floored by the amount of valuable, free information that your website provides, and I’m looking forward to investing in your workbooks soon. A sincere thank you for all you do!"


"You are an inspiration! I am truly grateful for the way you put into words and writing how to do what we do as SLPs. At this time in my 13 years of practicing, I find your encouragement keeps me going. As a single mom, I find it a stretch to buy materials these days and I am so thankful for the freebies you so generously share that help me teach my families. I don’t have much time to put together lists or quick references for parents!! Much gratitude!!"