How social stories can help an autistic child in an emergency

March 12, 2018

How social stories can help an autistic child in an emergency

 What is a social story?

Social stories are short descriptions of an activity, feeling, situation or event designed to help those with autism develop a greater social understanding and to stay safe. They can include both pictures and words and are sometimes described as comic book stories or conversations and are usually aimed at children; they are used a lot in schools to help autistic pupils.

They can cover situations like self-care (washing, tooth brushing, getting dressed) academic abilities and social skills such as using good manners, not interrupting, taking turns or how to ask for help. They can also be used as a behavioural strategy teaching a child how to control anger, how to cope with obsessions, what to do when they are upset or understanding their emotions.

Social stories are written in a very literal, concrete way these then help the child’s understanding of a situation or activity which was previously difficult for them to comprehend. They can be adapted to meet each child’s needs and level of understanding.


Example of a social story

Sometimes I like to play with other children.
I can ask them “Do you want to play with me?”
If they say yes, I can play with them and I will have fun.
If they say “No” its ok, I can ask someone else or I can play by myself.

Social stories can be very helpful when an autistic child takes in information visually rather than auditorily. Just reading them once or twice a day can help them process the information included and change their behaviour.


Social stories teach autistic child what to do


How to create your own social stories 

You can find pre-written social stories easily on the internet, but you can also write your own, tailor making them to the specific situation or behaviour you need to address. When compiling your own social story, you need to consider the goal – do you want to teach your child to cover their mouth when they cough, are you going to a social event that may make them anxious? Having a clear goal will help keep your content focussed and to the point. It should answer the following six questions:


It should be made up of descriptive sentences but can also include coaching sentences. Descriptive sentences describe the context – for instance who the situation involves, where it occurs, what happens and why (“Christmas Day is 25th December”, “I sleep in my bed”) whereas a coaching sentence guides behaviour (“I will hold an adults hand when crossing the road”).

When writing social stories, you should always refer to the main character as I, me, or the name of the child it is intended for; do not use another name as your child needs to be able to relate to themselves in the given situation.


How to use social stories to help an autistic child cope in an emergency

Social stories are also great for teaching a child with autism what to do in an emergency, for example, what to do if there is a fire, medical emergency, the child gets lost or if there is an intruder in your house. It’s a good idea to have stories in place for a variety of emergency situations and read them often with your child in case the worst does happen.


Where to go for more resources or support

There are hundreds of pre-written social stories on Pinterest, another good resource is the Twinkl Educational Publishing website.

If you would like more information about writing your own social stories please visit the National Autistic Society website.

If you have any tips or advice, please comment below. We'd love to hear from you.

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