Individuals on the autism spectrum often have a range of social communication challenges.
Social narratives are a great strategy to support their understanding of social situations.
These are especially helpful for navigating social exchanges at school and work settings.
Social narratives are a an evidence-based practice for individuals on the autism spectrum.
You can get more in-depth training about how to use them with Autism Focused Intervention Resources & Modules (AFIRM), a free resource offered by the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on Autism Spectrum Disorder at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Social narratives are one of 27 identified evidence-based practices.
Related reading: Autism Evidence-Based Practices
There are many different terms associated with social narratives, anytime you read something about strategies for supporting social communication in individuals with autism you may have also come across the term social stories.
In the definition provided by AFIRM, social narratives are a strategy to describe social situations that an individual with autism may need support navigating.
These descriptions include an explanation of the feelings and thoughts of others and appropriate behavior expectations.
Social narratives use text and images to describe social situations and are individualized upon the needs of the learner.
There are many types of social narratives including the following pulled from AFIRM:
The most well-known and frequently used social narrative.
Created by Carol Gray, these describe a social situation and link the appropriate behavior using sentences to describe and direct the learner.
Similar to above, but are generated for adults on the autism spectrum.
Using or drawing characters with thought bubbles to depict what others are thinking.
Also developed by Carol Gray, these use simple drawings to show what people say, do and think.
Using the individual’s special interest, these provide a short scenario of the social situation and outlines the rules on a small card to help increase understanding of the social situation.
Used after a social error occurred to help the individual understand the mistake and what happened.
Social narratives can be used to address a variety of needs and goals, including the following:
Playing and communicating with peers and others
Minimize adult support
Increase understanding of the social situation, environment, task, and/or expectations
Decrease challenging behaviors
Social narratives can be designed to address challenges specific to many individuals on the autism spectrum, but I’ve also found that they work for so many others.
Social narratives can enhance conversation skills, smooth transitions, decrease challenging behaviors, and assist in understanding what others might be thinking.
Ultimately, they can help your child be more prepared and successful in the social situation.
Social narratives are used by families and a variety of professionals including teachers, special educators, paraprofessionals, and therapists.
There are a number of resources available on the AFIRM website to help you with planning the specific type of social narrative you’re interested in.
Here is the step-by-step process of selecting and using a social narrative.
Identify the event/activity/behavior that your child could benefit from social narratives
Identify the type of social narrative
Create the social narrative based on:
Your child’s characteristics (examples: how much do they read? What are their favorite colors, how many choices should you provide?)
Teach your child how to use the social narrative
Use the social narrative consistently (use each time they are in that activity)
Take notes & monitor how the social narrative is used (you can jot down a few notes each time it’s used to see how long it is used, how many prompts you gave)