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Special Needs Parenting: What is A Social Story and How Can I Get One?

Alethea Mshar
Special needs mom and Blogger
09/06/18  9:24 AM PST
social story

“Maybe a social story would help!” We were discussing my then kindergarten-aged son Alex’s tendency to interrupt. It was the Speech Language Pathologist, seasoned by many years of experience, who made the suggestion. I had no idea what a social story was, but I was game to try it.

It’s been ten years since that day, and social stories have helped us teach our two sons with Down syndrome many of the social nuances that don’t come easily to them. From interrupting to personal space, our family navigates many topics with social stories; in fact, my younger son Ben, who has autism in addition to Down syndrome, has a social story in his school backpack as I type.

Social stories were developed by a teacher who taught children with autism. She found that the some of the social difficulties many people on the autism spectrum have could be made into a short story with pictures. A specific challenge is addressed in a simple narrative with a positive resolution. Through reading the story repeatedly, a person develops understanding and skills to improve interaction with others.

We often pull out a social story before an outing to remind our children of the norms they might need to follow. Then, when we are out, we refer back to the social story, with certain verbal cues or lines from the book in order to give gentle reminders to the kids.

A social story isn’t designed to be used just once or twice and be done, rather it’s the repetition that creates familiarity. With each reading the scenarios become more familiar, and trigger conversations, and layers of comprehension start to form until the child really grasps what is expected of them in social situations.

We have relied on professionals to help us create social stories for our kids. Many of their teachers, school staff and social workers have programs they can use to create and print a story for a specific purpose, but some parents do use social story programs and apps to develop social stories on their own. Relying on professionals is great because they often have access to better quality software for developing stories. Doing it yourself, however, means being able to make it exactly how you want it, so often it’s just a matter of which is the bigger priority for you.

While social stories were developed for people with autism, they are great for children with many other developmental challenges, and for neurotypical children too. To me, curling up with my kids and reading a cute little book is always fun, and if there are lessons involved, even better. Social stories really are a win/win.

inclusion on the playground

Alethea Mshar is a Mom of a Child with Special Needs and Blogger.

Read her blog, Ben’s Writing, Running Mom

Follow her on Facebook


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