Updated by
Chante Stoeckley, MEd, BCBA, LBA
Association for Science in Autism Treatment

Description: A written story that “accurately describes a context, skill, achievement, or concept according to 10 defining criteria” (Carol Gray Social Stories). According to its proponents, it’s a story that is written to help an individual understand social situations, such as understanding why it’s important to cover your mouth when you sneeze, give others personal space, or brush your teeth. The defining criteria currently include guidelines for assuring the story is meaningful to the individual, writing in a supportive tone, and focusing on descriptive statements that answer who, what, when, where, why and how questions (among others). This summary reviews research on Social Stories and other story-based interventions that approximate Social Stories but may not meet the exact specifications laid out by Carol Gray.

Research Summary: There is mixed evidence on the effectiveness of Social Stories. Numerous studies have concluded that they are effective, and the National Standards Project classified story-based interventions as an established procedure for increasing social skills and decreasing problem behaviors. However, multiple other reviews of the research have found that the supporting evidence is low or questionable (e.g., Leaf et al, 2020). Many of the studies showing improvement were not conducted in a way that allows for a conclusion to be reached about whether the Social Story actually caused the improvement. For example, many studies investigate the use of a Social Story along with another technique (such as prompting), and it is impossible to determine whether the change in behavior was a result of the prompting, the Social Story, or the combination. It appears that Social Stories may work in some instances and not others, but the research isn’t conclusive about what factors influence their effectiveness, the characteristics of the individuals who are most likely to benefit, or how social stories should be most effectively presented.

Recommendations: Professionals should present social stories as having limited scientific support, and encourage families who are considering this intervention to consider other procedures with more solid scientific support at this time as these should not be disregarded. Procedures such as prompting and reinforcing targeted social skills or treatment packages such as the Teaching Interaction Procedure (e.g., Leaf et al, 2012), Behavioral Skills Training, behavior contracts or video modeling are worth considering. While Social Stories should not be used in isolation, there are minimal risks in using them alongside another evidence-based treatment. The Social Story may function to cue the adult of the expected behavior. An important area for future research is to evaluate Social Stories in studies with strong experimental designs, and tease out what factors influence their effectiveness.

Systematic reviews of scientific studies:

Kokina, A., & Kern, L. (2010). Social Story interventions for students with autism spectrum disorders: A meta-analysis. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40(7), 812-826. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-009-0931-0

Leaf, J. B., Ferguson, J. L., Cihon, J. H., Milne, C. M., Leaf, R., & McEachin, J. (2020). A critical review of social narratives. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 32, 241-256. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10882-019-09692-2

Leaf, J., Oppenheim-Leaf, M., Leaf, R., Taubman, M., McEachin, J., Parker, T., Waks, A., & Mountjoy, T. (2015). What is the proof? A methodological review of studies that have utilized social stories. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 50(2), 127-141.

National Autism Center (2015). Findings and conclusions: National Standards Project, phase 2. Retrieved from https://www.nationalautismcenter.org/national-standards-project/phase-2/

Reynhout, G., & Carter, M. (2006). Social Stories for children with disabilities. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 445-469. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-006-0086-1

Scattone, D., Tingstrom, D. H., & Wilczynski, S. M. (2006). Increasing appropriate social interactions of children with autism spectrum disorders using social stories. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 21, 211-222. https://doi.org/10.1177/10883576060210040201

Test, D. W., Richter, S., Knight, V., & Spooner, F. (2011). A comprehensive review and meta-analysis of the social stories literature. Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities, 26(1), 49-62. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088357609351573

Selected scientific studies:

Chan, J. M., & O’Reilly, M. F. (2008). A social storiesTM intervention package for students with autism in inclusive classroom settings. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 41, 405-409. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.2008.41-405

Crozier, S., & Tincani, M. (2007). Effects of Social Stories on Prosocial Behaviour of Preschool Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1803-1814. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-006-0315-7

Leaf, J. B., Oppenheim-Leaf, M. L., Call, N. A., Sheldon, J. B., Sherman, J. A., Taubman, M., McEachin, J., Dayharsh, J., & Leaf, R. (2012). Comparing the teaching interaction procedure to social stories for people with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 45(2), 281-298. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.2012.45-281

Scattone, D., Tingstrom, D. H., & Wilczynski, S. M. (2006). Increasing appropriate social interactions of children with autism spectrum disorders using social stories. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 21, 211-222. https://doi.org/10.1177/10883576060210040201

For additional information:

Carol Gray Social Stories. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://carolgraysocialstories.com/

Citation for this article:

Stoeckley, C. (2020). A treatment summary of Social Stories. Science in Autism Treatment, 17(3).

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