How to Write a Social Story
At a Glance
In this post, we'll walk through the steps of writing your own social story. We know that these can be daunting at first and seem like they're only written by professionals in the field. Which is not true!
You can write your own social stories with these simple steps that help you craft a social story from beginning to end.
We also identified some key guideposts for your social story, including being centered on the individual it is for. Social stories can also look like however you need them!
In our most recent blog posts we have talked about some red flags and green flags when looking for social stories online, but it’s also important to point out that because of the diversity of need around social stories, sometimes you just won’t find one that is the right fit for your situation. In those moments it is worth considering writing your own social story.
Self-made social stories have a huge advantage in that you and/or the person you are supporting will always have a better understanding of your needs than anyone making a social story for a wider audience, but writing a social story can also be a little intimidating! What if we get it wrong? What if I’m missing some key technique that makes social stories helpful in the first place?
Our goal with today’s post is to offer some helpful guideposts and hopefully encourage you to give it a try and see some reasonable trial and error as a perfectly OK thing to do.
After all, the ultimate goal is to create a story that is helpful to the person who needs it, and the person who needs it will be the best judge of what is working and what is not.
Nonetheless, having some starting guidelines can be incredibly helpful in setting a direction and limiting the need for constant revision, so let’s get started!
If you do find yourself getting stuck on one of these steps, one alternative is to try individualizing a social story that is a close fit with the situation you hope to address.
If you want more of a guide try our free Individualizing Social Stories Checklist and Brainstorming Worksheets in the AGU shop! Whatever way is accessible to you, any steps toward further individualizing social stories can enhance them as a tool for navigating specific situations!
Step 1- Identify what the story will be about
What upcoming events or situations do you think might warrant a social story as a helpful navigational tool?
It’s very common to see social stories about upcoming events that deviate from a person’s normal routine (For example: parties, holidays, unique school days) or special activities (eating at a restaurant, going to the dentist, going to a sporting event).
Others still might address a recurring challenging situation (asking for help, managing sensory overload, needing a break) or components of a routine where there may be some benefit to continued learning and practice (answering the door,.shaving, doing the dishes).
Social stories are great for helping to familiarize unusual events, offer a sense of consistency, share helpful reminders in difficult situations, reinforce a routine, and show there are options for next steps.
If you think a person you are supporting could benefit from one of those things, then there is a reasonable chance that the right social story could help!
Step 2 - Determine the style you need
Remember that this social story can be catered to a specific set of needs if necessary, and if you have a particular person in mind the best thing to determine before writing is what format is going to be most helpful in making the story an accessible tool for the situations to which it applies.
Knowing the best accessible format is helpful at the beginning of the writing process because it can help begin to establish parameters around how much space there will be to include relevant information and begin to prioritize the various needs the story may be helping to address.
Is this particular story better communicated as a one pager or a booklet, for example? It can also be helpful for determining the way information will be conveyed, whether via text, image, or a combination.
If using images, is it more effective to use real life photos, icons, pictures of the specific activity in question? Determining these things ahead of time can make it easier to shape the story in a way that fits the person’s needs early.
Step 3 - Draft up some text
As we mentioned above, one reason we consider format and style first is to maximize our ability to shape the narrative in a way that is most accessible to the person using it.
That being said, if it helps your brainstorming process to be more thorough with ideas and edit down that is a perfectly fine approach as well!
Feel free to begin outlining the shape of your story as you brainstorm as well! Seeing where there may be gaps or unanswered questions can make a big difference in including all the important details, and sometimes starting to put things in order can be a big help in spurring that kind of thinking!
Step 4 - Editing your text
This can be one of the trickier parts of writing a social story and can be a place where more knowledge regarding sentence and paragraph construction can come in handy.
This guide from Vanderbilt, though it does use some language regarding appropriate behavior that we might consider approaching differently, does offer some very helpful advice regarding what types of sentences to use, what ratio of sentence types to use, and some general advice for how to focus writing.
Their guide on descriptive versus directive language is especially helpful for stories that are primarily text-based. When editing your base narrative down to a polished social story, consider the following factors drawn from the Vanderbilt guide:
- It is ideal to include at least two descriptive sentences (broadly sentences covering the reality of the situation) for every directive sentence (identifying potential choices and next steps). It can be helpful to collaborate with students about which descriptive sentences are most helpful - do they want more information about the external situation that is occurring or about how they may be feeling in the moment. For directive sentences, what options do they feel are viable choices?
- Text should be written from the first person perspective of the individual using it. This both helps it as a tool and is a good reminder to the writer as to who to prioritize when writing the social story.
- The text should be focused on positive or proactive steps students can take to address challenging situations as opposed to things they shouldn’t be doing. While some social stories covering harmful situations may require an explanation of why an action is harmful, the focus should still be on modeling the way forward.
- The text should incorporate the perspective of the person using it. Not only is is much more validating to have one’s feelings acknowledged in a challenging situation, this is a tool meant to benefit the individual in question! Failing to include their perspective and the things they care about in a social story made for them can limit the effectiveness of the story!
The text should reflect the individual’s processing needs. We cannot emphasize enough that the importance of fitting the communication format to the needs of the person using it trumps the importance of the story itself! If it is communicated in a way that the person using it cannot effectively use in the moment, then it doesn’t matter how good the story itself may be! Make sure you are fitting the format appropriately and figure out how best to prioritize story needs from there.
- One thing worth remembering is that social stories as a tool are meant to be practiced beforehand, meaning some things can be reviewed and taught ahead of time! Remember if you think something in the story has been communicated effectively but it turns out to be more of a challenge in practice you can always adjust!
- The text should be focused, clear, and concise. The more pared down and clean you can make the language the better. Make no mistake, it can be tricky to simultaneously be descriptive and specific about a situation while also paring down your wording as much as possible. Clean, concise social stories can take a lot of time and effort for this reason. But a well written social story can be a hugely effective tool an an individual’s arsenal!
Step 6 - Gather the necessary images
The key to gathering images is to fit in with both the text and the preferences of the individual using the story. Some individuals for example might like a specific character to represent themselves in a specific type of story.
Alternately individuals might prefer icons to represent how they may be feeling in a situation, or real photos from a given event to be reminded of what it was like before. While you may not always find the perfect image for each situation, doing your best to accommodate both of those needs goes a long way toward accurate and personalized supplementary images!
One thing to bear in mind here is that when you are just making a custom story to share with one person grabbing whatever images you need may be fine, but if you are interested in writing your own stories to try to publish for wider distribution you may need to license your images if you do not create them yourself.
Step 7 - Assemble text and images on preferred software
Some common choices include Google Slides, PowerPoint, and Canva. Some brave souls may even attempt Microsoft Word! The crucial balance to strike is your ease of use versus relatively clean and simple formatting in your final product!
We hope this guide has offered some inspiration and a path toward creating your own personalized social stories when one appears to be necessary and there just isn’t a good narrative available online.
Personalized social stories can be tricky and require more revision than they might seem at first glance, but they can also be such a valuable tool for navigating so many different situations. Whether or not it turns out to be the right tool for you it can be worth a try, as can trying to individualize existing social stories.
If you’d like to share some of your own social story best practices with us or tell us what you’d like to hear more about on the subject of social stories we would love to hear from you! Just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and in the meantime happy writing and revising!