Social Stories

As Eli becomes older and more aware of himself he has been getting more reticent around strangers. His speech is emerging, to our great delight, but he isn’t confident enough to speak with most other people outside the family or his speech therapists. I remember how he used to work his extreme cuteness as a 5 month old for all the attention he could in the checkout line at the grocery.

I wondered at the time how two introverts (me a bit more extremely so than my husband) could have given birth to such an extrovert. Now he’s either showing himself not to have fallen that far from the family tree, or this is just another developmental phase. Time will tell, and in the end Eli will be Eli. Introvert or extrovert, it’ll be just fine by us.

In the meantime, Eli has been growing increasingly uncomfortable with playing outdoors within our immediate neighborhood. He is fine as soon as we are away from the home and in a public place. I think the difference is that on our sidewalk our friendly neighbors will stop to greet him. Somedays he will go out but becomes nervous when other people walk by. Other days he refuses to play outside at all unless I take him away from our neighborhood. While I don’t mind if he is by nature going to be a more introverted individual, I don’t like seeing him experiencing such anxiety to the point where it is hindering him from enjoying one of his greatest joys in life.

To help him gain greater level of comfort with playing in our neighborhood I’m making a couple of social stories for him.

Social stories are short stories targeted very specifically to a social skill an individual is struggling with. A quick Google search will provide an abundance of information as well as sites offering free social stories with generic illustrations for a variety of  life skills. While social stories were developed as a tool to help individuals with Autism  learn specific social skills, it seems to me they are a powerful tool to help any child with an area in which they are struggling. It is my hope that these stories I’m creating for Eli will normalize something that he is currently finding threatening.

Here are the pictures and text from the first one I made just to get him thinking about all the things he so enjoys doing when we are outside. These stories are supposed to be short and this one may be a bit too long. And because it doesn’t really address any sort of social skill perhaps it can’t really be called a “social story” at all.  Whether it fits the definition or not I think it’ll help.

Eli Plays Outside

Eli draws with chalk.

Eli rides his bike.

Eli plays with dirt.

Eli plays in the tree.

Eli waters the garden.

Eli watches the cars and trucks.

Eli plays with leaves and sticks.

Eli plays with his wagon.

Eli plays on the stepping stones.

The second social story I’m going to make for him I won’t post here because it will contain photos of the neighbors who might not appreciate me posting their pictures online. The text will go more or less as follows:

Our Neighbors

Our neighbors live in the houses around us.

We see them walking on the sidewalk.

They go to their garages. Then they drive away.

When they come home again, they walk from the parking lot to their houses.

Our neighbors are friendly. Sometimes they stop to say “hi!”

We live in a nice neighborhood.

The photos will obviously be of neighbors walking back and forth on the sidewalk, or in the parking lot. I spoke with one family about a picture of them waving hello. The others I’ll most likely just take on the sly from the front door as opportunities present themselves. Again, perhaps not quite a social story as it doesn’t deal with teaching him how to respond appropriately. He’s only 2 and if he doesn’t want to talk to people he doesn’t know I’m ok with that. Pressuring him to do so will only raise the anxiety level, the exact opposite of what will encourage him continue practicing to speak. Right now I just want him to get comfortable with seeing the neighbors when he is outside. 

When Eli first began going to the group therapy program he had great difficulty sitting with the other children for circle time. They made a social story for him there called Eli Sits in Circle Time with photos they took of him during a few of his more successful moments. He loved it and wanted to read and reread it. He also began to do much better during circle time after we started reading his book together.

Since I gave him the book less than two hours ago Eli has wanted it read to him eight times and at one point insisted on leaving the book to go out and water the tree and use the sidewalk chalk for a while. Yay!

I hope these new stories help him navigate this current bumpy spot in the road he is experiencing. If nothing else I think he will enjoy having another book with himself as the main character!



  1. Alyssa said,

    June 19, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    WOW, he is so adorable, and by the looks of these photos and your blog, he’s very bright/intelligent! Great info here, I will have to pass this on to my son. He has a 15 month old son…my first grandson…and no i am not old enough to be a grandparent, I am still young enough to be having a baby of my own…LOL! 🙂

    • June 21, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      Thanks, we think Eli is all those things! I hope your son find this idea helpful with your grandson.

  2. ReStitch Me said,

    June 19, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    My 2nd oldest had anxious moments as a child and this would have been perfect for her! I’m so happy for Eli and for the success of the book to encourage him to go outdoors. Yeah! 🙂

    • June 21, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      Thanks. Seeing how much he likes these books I think I’ll be making books for him about special days or experiences as well to be read and re-read. Then maybe when he is a bit older and talking more I can let him dictate the text to go with the pictures. As you can tell, I’m really enjoying this. 🙂

  3. 312east5th said,

    June 19, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    fantastic idea! I have never heard of this before! I will most certainly use it even to just discuss simple skills we have been working on. Thanks for sharing!

  4. June 19, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    This is such a great idea! It looks as if any child might enjoy being the main character of their own book. I will keep this in mind for when BabyE is a little bit older.

  5. adohrenwend said,

    June 20, 2012 at 4:56 am

    Karen, thanks so much for sharing this! This would be a great idea for the cardboard books I love to make for the girls. We need to work on sharing, so I think we’ll start there.

  6. Inder said,

    June 20, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    I love this idea!! I want to do this for Joe, too! Joe was outgoing as an infant, but as a toddler, has been relatively shy and slow to warm up to new people/situations (or even some not new people he only sees occasionally, like my dad, sigh). It takes him a long time to get comfortable in a new environment. He’s definitely gone through phases of being more or less reticent, and he’s currently in an “outgoing” phase (by his standards) which is lovely. I’m sure this is just his temperament, but like you, it pains me a little to see him anxious and worried about harmless situations.

    • June 21, 2012 at 4:09 pm

      Eli is reticent with the family he sees only occasionally too (grandparents and others in AZ). Maybe making a book about those people right before a few weeks would help?

  7. Caroline said,

    June 21, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    As a teacher I have created and used social stories with autistic children. I think what you are doing here is great and I am sure it will help Eli. Well done!

  8. Megan said,

    June 21, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    This is such a fascinating idea and really makes so much sense. And what a lovely, lovely little boy!!

  9. June 22, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    What a fabulous idea! I love all the photos you put together. This seems like such a more logical idea than so many therapy theories.

    • June 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm

      Reminding him of what he loves to do outside has helped getting him outdoors again. As for getting comfortable with the neighbors being around at this point I may have done more harm than good. I approached the one family to ask them to let me let me take their photograph. This has really motivated the father to “help” us. Now when he sees us outside he screams “Hi Baby!” while waving furiously from a couple houses distant down the sidewalk. Eli is already terrified of this man (for reasons know only to him) so this added extra intense interest in him is not helping to put him at ease. Add to that the fact that this poor man was just in an auto accident that left him with a broken leg and a walking cast, so it’s a slow “step, thump, step, thump” is also playing into Eli’s secret nightmare scenario. I REALLY need to get the second book made quickly!

  10. June 24, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Great idea! We use a lot of storytelling to prep him for something potentially overwhelming. Or right after we leave an event, we do a recap so he can use stories to piece the events together and make sense of it.

    • June 24, 2012 at 10:49 am

      Storytelling is such a powerful tool. I look for library books at Eli’s level of interest that deal with themes that are common in our lives at the moment. I notice it is these books out of the stack that he gravitates to most. I guess we never really outgrow it… the books just get longer and more complex! We also do a retelling of our day right before bed for the same reasons you do your recaps. I think it also helps with language acquisition by putting words to his memories of the day.

  11. twodaloo said,

    June 28, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    Just catching up on your blog. You did a great job with these social stories! Since I specialized in autism spectrum disorders when I was practicing, social stories were a huge part of my therapy and I have actually presented at conferences on how to adapt them to different situations, ages, levels of cognitive impairment, etc. My favorite thing about them is that they are such a flexible tool. Many authors/publishers will say that their “formula” for writing a social story is the only one that works…not so! The length/complexity/medium of your story should be determined by needs of the person you are writing for, not someone’s definition of a “correct” story. So write on, Mama! Your little boy is so lucky to have you in his corner!


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