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Using Social Stories from Early Years to Adulthood (Part 1)

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

This is the first part of our snippets of advice information and covers using social stories from early years to adolescence.

Jane and I were fortunate to attend an Inclusive Communication day this year and a workshop by Dr Siobhan Timmins, looking at using social stories into adulthood.

Social stories are used to give individuals clear information about people, events and situations and to introduce a new experience. Social stories explain one situation at a time, it’s an opportunity to reinforce positive events and are not used to tell a child what they are doing wrong. The concept of these stories and a specific format originally came from an educationalist in the States called Carol Gray to help young people with ASD cope in social situations.

Although generalised books for children such as a visit to the dentist or starting school help, social stories are individualised to the child’s specific needs and experiences. For some children and young people, the starting point will be a series of photos relevant to them to use as a discussion tool for everyday situations. This can then progress on to using social stories that can be written in the first of third person. Using photos/pictures can gives more meaning, here are a few examples:

Going to the shops with Mum

Mum takes Alex in the car. She parks the car in the car park by Tesco. Mum likes Alex to hold her hand when they walk. She says that will keep Alex safe. She likes Alex to hold her hand when they go out of the car and walk over to the shopping centre. When Mum and Alex get to the shops Alex can walk by Mum’s side. That will keep Alex safe.

Another example:

Getting my haircut

My hair grows all time.

When my hair gets too long, I go to the hairdressers.

I sit in the big chair.

The hairdresser uses a comb to comb my hair and cuts my hair with the scissors

I can look in the mirror to see what is happening.

I can take my symbol card with me and show the ‘STOP PLEASE’ symbol.

The hairdressers will stop if I ask them to.

When I feel ready, they will start to cut my hair again.

I can take my tangle toy with me to make me feel better.

I look great with my new haircut.

There is more information on social stories in the society’s booklets/papers (contact us for copies):

  • Fragile X Syndrome: An Introduction to Educational Needs

  • Using Language and Routine Bases Strategies for Managing Hyperarousal and Teaching to the Fragile X Learning Style

  • Behavioural Characteristics and Intervention Strategies with Adolescent and Adult Issues

Social stories are suitable for all ages although they tend to be thought of as a resource for children. As a child develops their language and understanding the format of the social story can change to be a style that builds up resilience, coping strategies and helps with choices and change. Dr Timmins introduced us to the concept of building up this resilience in young people by having a Plan A of how a day /event is expected to be and then the Plan B for when something unexpected happens. This resource acts a discussion tool within the family to help the child cope with change. It can reframe a perspective from a negative experience to something positive. In the example below that I have used for a family, it meant they could cope with the change rather than become anxious focussing on the negative event of the taxi not arriving that then resulted in them being unable to cope with the day ahead.

My journey to School

Usually I have a plan of how I expect the journey to school to be. Mum and I call this my Plan A. It is the best plan for the day. My taxi driver comes to my house, I get into the taxi and they drive me to school. My friends travel in the taxi with me, I enjoy this. I get out of the taxi and go into the playground and start my school day.

Sometimes unexpected things happen to this plan and having a Plan B may help. It’s good to have a Plan B

Plan B is my second-best plan for the day. If the taxi doesn’t come to my house Mum and I will know to use Plan B. I will get in Mum’s car and she will drive me to school. When I get to school, I can get out of my Mum’s car and go into the classroom. My teacher and teaching assistant know about Plan B and will help me.

Pictorial plans may still be useful and can be either photos or symbols as is shown using widgit symbols for the above Plan A.

By using such resources children can become more flexible to new situations and build up their self-esteem. For children I have supported in the past they have a ‘bank’ of social stories that they can dip into for reassurance. In certain circumstances, it can help if these stories are cut up in to sentences or sections, then laminated and put on a stretchy key ring for a child to have in their bag or clipped onto a belt loop. This enables them to check on a situation that is about to happen, like the example of going to the hairdresser.

I hope this information has been helpful; do contact me if you would like help putting together a social story or Plan A Plan B regarding a specific issue or situation. Email me directly, or phone 01371 875100

We will give details of how social stories can help into adulthood and the use of social articles in a forthcoming ‘snippets of advice'.


The New Social story Book by Carol Gray

Developing Resilience in Young People with Autism by Dr Siobhan Timmins


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