#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

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