January 23, 2021

Carol Gray explains the definition of a Social Story as, “ a social learning tool that supports the safe and meaningful exchange of information between parents, professionals, and people with autism of all ages.  “ meaningful exchange of information.” That is the goal. 

I began incorporating Social Stories into my teacher toolkit early on with my students. Although I was not a consistent user of them, when I did so, in hindsight I was creating an interpretation of what I understood a Social Story to be.  Carol Gray is the author of the very first Social Story back in 1990.  If you are interested in exploring the history and the 10 science-based criteria behind the creation of these stories, I recommend her website: It’s excellent and she is a pioneer.

Officially Social Stories are connected with autism.  And in my recent experiences I have been using them with my ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) clients quite a bit.  I had been introduced to Social Stories informally and so, early on, I was someone coming to them from an subjective perspective. Without the restriction of the established definition, I gradually saw the inherent value in them for a broad range of our children on the Special Needs spectrum.  I saw the benefit for anyone of those children who lacked communication skills as they struggled with anxiety and stress related behaviors or limitations.  I saw then, and see now, the varying degrees of value they offer for people with learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, attention deficit disorder, behavior disorders and more.


When I first met a new student, I didn’t want to read too much of the child’s narrative history (other than to be aware of specifics related to immediate medical concerns) in order to be able to meet the person, not the report, and avoid any pre-determined bias.  After all, the narrative in reports can be tinged with subjectivity, as hard as they try not to be, and can color one’s opinions while informing a prejudgment which might create an immediate barrier that is often irreversible. 

Not to say that I didn’t eventually read the entire report, but when I did I was equipped with a true life, first-hand interpersonal knowledge to measure against what I read. I wanted to meet the human being and that served us both quite well during our time together. In this regard, I didn’t follow the rules or expectations in the manner that others did.  As a result, I think I succeeded where others didn’t because they were invested in a description instead of a person, and that may have interfered with the development of a genuine, unadulterated relationship.  

My perspective on Social Stories may not follow the official prescription as Ms. Gray, and other respected professionals in this field have established.  And as she says, there are interpretations of “social stories” that don’t fit the criteria.  But whether the stories I create drift closer to or further from these rules, flexibility in their interpretation, I maintain, invites a healthy diversion off the scientific tract as long as it endeavors to obtain the same desired outcome.  While I may not follow the criteria to the “T,” I remain in the ballpark.  My approach to hitting may be seen as going against the grain, but if I get a hit, then in this enterprise, we all win.  As long as the result is effective positive change and a “meaningful exchange of information,” then we (you) have done a good job.


A social story is able to reach an individual at his or her level and be tailored to a very personal set of relatable life experiences.  When I create a story, I seek to gather as much information from the parent or guardian I am working with in order to fine tune the main idea and strategize a logical, relatable sequence.  Again, each approach considers the individual needs of it’s intended audience.  Some stories are more universal in nature requiring some tweaking, while others will be very specific. 

Social Stories cover the spectrum of universal themes. For example, Going to the Doctor’s Office; The Importance of Eating a Healthy Diet; The First Day of School; Getting Ready for Bed; Keeping Our Hands to Ourselves;… and so on.  But they can be very specific too. As in, dealing with self-abusive behaviors, rules for therapeutic horseback riding, reacting to an unfavorable activity,…etc.  You will find that, in one way or another, there are already a plethora of existing Social Stories that you can manipulate to serve your needs and the needs of your child. 

However you interpret them, I strongly believe in the effectiveness of Social Stories and I strongly encourage the inclusion of them in your toolkit.  Kids do respond to and tend to rely on them once they become a part of their routine.  The more personal you make them, using pictures of the child and familiar people and places in their lives, the more relatable they may be. 

Don’t be deterred for fear that you are creating a story incorrectly.  In fact, don’t be afraid to try anything that is an honest attempt to help your child.  The only way to learn is to try.  Mistakes take you closer to success in all things and certainly, when it comes to helping your child, no one can fault you for a sincere effort.  Again, refer to online Social Stories to see how they are constructed.  Read Carol Gray’s website.  But don’t let questions and doubts stop you.  For, whatever story you create is a step in the right direction and when you see the positive results, you will understand the efficacy of your exploit. 

Peace and Keep On Rising!

Published by riseup20

I am a retired teacher with a creative bent and I am excited to bring attention and assistance to parents and caregivers of children with special needs. Mark

One thought on “SOCIAL STORIES

  1. I really appreciated the encouragement of room for error/experimentation on the road to success. What you bring — to an individual child/parent/situation, and to the therapeutic space in general — is so needed, valuable and reassuring. The fact that you also speak from a male perspective in arenas often dominated by female ones is an important contribution (I am the mother of a special needs son).


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