Telling stories about everyday things

I’ve just come back from a one-day workshop with Carol Gray, an American teacher and autism expert who developed an intervention called Social Stories™ in 1989. Instructional requests to comply with rules, tenets or behaviours are not effective if the rationale for doing so does not make sense.  Carol explains that because social rules or social cues are quite specific to the person, place, situation or event, there are billions of potential combinations of meanings and outcomes.  Therefore, the way in which we teach everyday skills, must be unique to the learner and their personal goals.

A personal social story should share information in a way that is completely accessible to the learner, and which enables them to make their own understanding of a skill, task, activity, context or situation.  So the author of the story has a responsibility to involve the learner as a person, and to make sure that it is a story that belongs to them, and not to a generic type of person or set of behaviours.

I had this conversation with a student teacher recently, let’s call him Bob.  Bob had asked me for advice about a young person with ADHD who was repeatedly rubbing out his writing at school, meaning that the his copy  / work books often had holes or tears in the pages.  Having directed Bob to look at Carol’s methods, he came back to me and said that they were interesting, but his student was not autistic. This misses the point that social stories are not specific to any one type of learner, or disability, or special need, or any other label.  Here’s a social story adapted from the Watson Institute that might help Bob and his student.

Letters Don’t Have To Be Perfect

Sometimes I copy words from the board in school. I try really hard when I write words down.

I like my letters to look nice. Sometimes I want to rub out the letters and make them look perfect, but letters do not have to be perfect.

It is OK to erase the words once or twice, but I will try to stop rubbing out my writing after 1 or 2 times.

Other children do not erase more than once or twice. Other children do not write
perfect letters. If I erase too much I will get behind in my work. Rubbing out my writing over and over again may tear the paper, or make holes.

I will try to write letters and then leave them alone, because it is OK if the words on my paper are not perfect.

Sometimes the words will be a little messy and that is OK.  Letters don’t have to be perfect.  As long as people can read them, that is OK.

If I try not to erase so much, I’ll get my work done more quickly, and my teacher will be happy. I will feel better too.

Nowhere in this story does it say ‘only people with autism can read this’, nor does it say ‘people with ADHD may not find this useful’.  My student teacher needs to work with his student and find out why he is anxious about his writing, or the presentation of his school work.  He may need to write  a completely different story.

A good story sticks to Carol Gray’s guidelines and as I mentioned at the  beginning of this post, there a great many social story resources, some commercial and some not, some better than others.  The TASN Autism and Tertiary Behavior Supports website is part of the Kansas State Department of Education’s Special Education Services.  They have a collection of stories or social narratives for all age groups in Word, Powerpoint and pdf.  The Special Education Technology (SET) in British Columbia also provide templates for stories and storyboards.


Of course you can write your own stories for use with iPad or Android tablets, and there are plenty of apps that can help you do this.  However, it is just as easy to type, word process or handwrite these, and to illustrate them using EasyRead graphics and icons that are freely available from the NHS resource bank Easy on the i.

I’m working with several young people aged 18 to 22 years at the moment, and we usually begin our sessions with a conversation about the mysteries of common social behaviours, such as shaking hands and ‘ the point of passing the time of day.’  We have started to write a series of social articles – together –  formatted as a short newspaper article, as a way of understanding the building blocks of why humans do what humans do in social situations.





Writing a social story takes a lot of preparation, practice, editing and revision, but  writing unique stories that are specific to the needs of a child, young person or adult makes all the difference.

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