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Social Stories and Art Therapy

Overview of Social Stories and Individuals with Autism

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other developmental issues use Social Stories in order to better understand the nuances of interpersonal communication. Originally designed in 1991 by Carol Gray, Social Stories model appropriate social interaction by describing a situation with appropriate social cues, others perception, and a suggested response relevant to the situation.

The goal of a Social Story is to reveal correct social information in a clear and encouraging means that is easily understood by the individual. The improved understanding of the events and expectations may lead to a change in behavior, although it is suggested that the goal of a Social Story should not be to change individual behavior. However, it can reduce anxiety when used consistently.

What exactly is a Social Story?

A Social Story is an individualized short story that describes social pertinent cues in any given situation. It takes a potentially challenging situation and breaks it down into simple steps and omits extraneous information.


The traditional format  uses sentences in a structured way. There are generally  7 types of sentences used: 1) Descriptive (truthful and observable), 2) Perspective (describes the internal state of others), 3) Directive (suggests positively, a choice or response), 4) Affirmative (enhances the meaning of statements), 5) Control (identifies strategies), 6) Cooperative (describes what other will do to help them), and lastly, 7) Partial (encourages the individual to make guesses about next steps).


Children with Autism tend to learn visually, particularly in simple and colorful pictures. Many of them use PECs (Picture Exchange Communication) in their speech therapy or classrooms. Teachers and therapists typically create Social Stories to help their students overcome a challenging situation. This is usually created independently by the professional and then used with the child in a learning session.

Children creating their own Social Stories

As an Art Therapist, I have been able to work with children to “create together” their own Social Stories, using either cut pictures, drawings, words, or photos in a manner where they can learn while doing. Not only is this a great creative and hands on directive for the child, it is an opportunity for the therapist to assess the child’s understanding of the situation, thereby customizing the content as the process unfolds. Ultimately, the “product” may not be as crisp and clean, but the process of the child “problem solving” and contributing to their Social Story is very productive. Just by making choices in the creation of their Social Story, it has already given them some strategies to work on.

Materials needed to make a “hands-on” Social Story with your student/ client/ child
  • Card stock (available at Staples or other office supply stores)
  • Printed images relevant to the story (Google Images are ok to reprint for non-commercial use)
  • Printed words or sentences that may be helpful to cut and paste
  • Photos taken and then printed of people/place/things relevant to the story
  • Non-toxic glue stick and/or double sided tape
  • Safety scissors/ hole puncher-if you want to use a binder or ring(s)
  • Ruler (to draw lines for lining up images or words)
  • Drawing materials such as pencils, crayons, and markers
  • OPTIONAL: Clear packing tape or clear contact paper to cover over page(s)
How to get started creating a Social Story
  1. Identify the purpose or goal and come up with a title (such as “Sharing with others”)
  2. Talk about the situation and come up with descriptions using images and words
  3. Include the perspective of other’s typical thoughts and feelings
  4. Be directive yet flexible about the outcome (“I might…” or “I can make…..”)
  5. Affirm the goal and purpose (“This is important because….” or “This is ok”)
  6. Identify people and things that can help the child and be cooperative to achieving the goal(s)
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