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The SPD Companion, Issue # 022... Social Stories And SPD
February 07, 2008

Welcome to the February 2008 edition of The SPD Companion. I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy lives to join me today.

Before we get started… please accept my apologies for any delays in my responses to emails, help line submissions or approving comments this past month. We had a family emergency… I am still out of town taking care of a very ill family member, but I am trying as hard as possible to get everything done and answered during this time. Bear with me, ok? I will be back on track soon!

Also, I do hope you all had received my message that I was unable to get a January newsletter out. Do you ever have one of those months (or two or three) when everything seems to be taking away all of your time and energy based on unexpected life circumstances, leaving you with no work or personal time? Ah, it has been that for me lately, and I will actually not be settled (I am moving too!) until the end of March or beginning of April. But, I am carrying on with this site, every spare moment I have. I just ask for your patience during these difficult and chaotic life changing events and family illnesses. Thank you in advance.

OK, enough about me...

Today’s topic? Social Stories and SPD.

Have you heard of them? You may have also heard them referred to as social skills stories. Most often they have been used for kids with Autism, PDD, and/or Aspergers. As we know, many children with Autism Spectrum Disorders also have a diagnosis of SPD. Additionally, although not autistic, many kids with SPD have significant social skill difficulties due to sensory seeking or sensory avoiding behaviors. It is with this in mind that Social Stories can potentially be a useful tool for many children with SPD.

[Did you know there are also a few resources currently available for SENSORY Stories; similar, but not to be confused with SOCIAL Stories? These sensory stories are specific stories developed for SPD kids that help them use sensory integrative techniques to get through their days more successfully... coping and treatment in one! At the end of this newsletter, I will be giving you the resources you need to find these SENSORY Stories, already written, and a place to actually make your own! More about that at the end.]

But, first, let's talk about our topic of the month, Social Stories...

What are Social Stories?

Jason M. Wallin ( defines Social Stories as follows:

Social Stories are a tool for teaching social skills to children with Autism and related disabilities. Social Stories provide an individual with accurate information about those situations that he may find difficult or confusing. The situation is described in detail and focus is given to a few key points: the important social cues, the events and reactions the individual might expect to occur in the situation, the actions and reactions that might be expected of him, and why. The goal of the story is to increase the individual’s understanding of, make him more comfortable in, and possibly suggest some appropriate responses for the situation in question.”

…The benefits of Social Stories: [They] give individuals some perspective on the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of others. They help the individual better predict the actions and assumptions of others. Social Stories also present information on social situations in a structured and consistent manner, a particularly appropriate approach for kids with autism, especially when dealing with skills and behaviors which are so fluid as those involved in social interactions… Finally, Social Stories provide a little distance between teaching and the possible stresses of the social situation itself; they give the child a chance to practice the skills often and on his terms.”

Social Stories were developed 17 years ago by Carol Gray. The following excerpts are taking directly from her center’s website (The Gray Center; and will help you further understand the origins and purposes of Social Stories…

“Carol Gray, former consultant to students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in Jenison, MI and internationally-recognized author and presenter, first defined Social Stories™ in 1991. Since that time, an increased understanding of the approach, coupled with research and experience from those using the tool, has resulted in minor but important revisions to the original definition. The Defining Criteria and Guidelines, know as Social Stories™ 10.0, can be purchased from the Gray Center as a download.

A Social Story™ describes a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format. The goal of a Social Story™ is to share accurate social information in a patient and reassuring manner that is easily understood by its audience. Half of all Social Stories™ developed should affirm something that an individual does well. Although the goal of a Story™ should never be to change the individual’s behavior, that individual’s improved understanding of events and expectations may lead to more effective responses.”

Laurel Hoekman ( points out one important word of caution regarding the use of Social Stories™…

“When you are facing a difficult or confusing situation, it is easy to assume that a Social Story™ will ‘fix’ the situation. Remember that there is much that parents and professionals can do to change the environment or expectations in such a way that a Social Story™ may not even be necessary. For more information on the ‘research’ required before writing a Social Story™ we recommend reading Revealing The Hidden Social Code by Marie Howley and Eileen Arnold.

Although not yet extensively studied for use with SPD children, per se, social stories can be a very effective supplemental therapeutic tool; whether the child is on the autistic spectrum or not. (Remember, you can have one without the other). In my experience, the majority of SPD kids have some sort of social skill or social environment difficulties. Several sensory processing issues can cause this; for example, sensory defensiveness, sensory seeking behaviors, sensory modulation difficulties, visual or auditory discrimination/processing issues, etc. In these cases, Social Stories could certainly have a positive influence on how children will handle difficult or new situations.

I must be clear though. Social Stories WILL NOT change or “fix” the underlying sensory issues. Social Stories WILL NOT take away the sensory processing difficulties. In that sense, IN ISOLATION, they will not be useful. However, IN ADDITION TO a comprehensive, consistent sensory integrative therapy program, they can be a perfect complement, reinforcing and enhancing neurological integration and consequent development of new skills. At very least, it can reduce the anxiety experienced in new, unfamiliar, over-stimulating, or stressful situations.

SPD kids live in an unpredictable world due to the very nature of a fluctuating and inconsistent neurological system, coupled with the unpredictability of any environment, especially socially based, due to fluctuations in the myriad of sensory stimuli that can exist. With so much unpredictability, social stories have the potential to be the anchor that may help keep the child grounded and less anxious. These stories have the potential to put into use the new skills they are learning through therapy and give predictability to so much unpredictability.

Anxiety and compulsiveness for routine, sameness, and order are so very common in SPD kids and adults. This is the way they handle or control the unpredictable. Social stories can be another, more effective solution (than anxiety and compulsiveness) for many. With these stories we can offer planning, solutions, comfort, and hope. If written and used properly, they can only help! How can we NOT be willing to use them??

The following information regarding Social Stories was submitted by Deborah Harvell, M.S. CCC-SLP…

As a speech language pathologist working with children, I have found social stories to be extremely helpful in a variety of circumstances. In addition, I have listened to several young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) talk about their experiences and the continued benefit of social stories even into adulthood.

As described by Carol Gray ( stories contain four types of sentences descriptive (objectively describes the who/what/where/why of a situation), perspective (describes the reactions and feelings of others), directive (states desired response in a positive tone), and control (identifies strategies the student will use and is written by the student). As a general rule the social story should contain 3-5 descriptive and/or perspective sentences for every one directive or control sentence. In addition, the stories are generally written in the first person present tense. It is also important to remember to avoid words that do not allow for flexibility (e.g. I will, I always, every time) instead use words that leave room for change (e.g. I will try, sometimes, usually).

In my experience, I have found it helpful with some students, depending on their level of reading/auditory comprehension to supplement the story with pictures/symbols ( and to have the student involved in developing the story as much as possible. Some situations in which social stories have been helpful include: addressing behavior issues, teaching social ‘rules’, reducing anxiety especially around change, and teaching about new situations or events.

Sample Social Stories:

1. “Sometimes at recess I play board games with my friends. We take turns picking the game. We have fun playing together. Sometimes when I do not win it makes me angry. I try to remember playing the game is fun and I might win next time. This makes me happy again. When the game is over I can say “good job” to the winner.”

2. “When it is story time I sit on the floor with my friends and look at the teacher. The teacher reads a story to the class and shows us the pictures. Sometimes I want to say something about the story. When I talk while the teacher is reading it is hard for my friends to hear the story. When I want to talk about the story I will try to first raise my hand, then wait for the teacher to say my name, then I can talk.”

3. “After school my mom usually brings me home. Sometimes mom has to work and she does not pick me up from school. When mom has to work I ride home on the bus. Mom will tell me in the morning if it is a bus day. The bus driver knows where I live and he will bring me home safely. When I ride the bus I can sit in the front seat so I can watch for my house.”

Related information on developing the underlying social thinking skills can be found on Michelle Garcia Winner’s website:

(submitted by Deborah, 2/2008)

What Would A Social Story Look Like For An SPD Child?

Let’s look at one example as to how a social story may be used for a sensory defensive child…

It’s time for a haircut. The child hates (if that word is even strong enough!) getting her haircut. The bright lights in the salon, the loud hairdryers, loud buzzing cutters, hair falling on the child’s skin, water dripping on/in their face/eyes, head tipping back to get their hair washed over the sink, the smells of stinky perms and hair products, the pain of having their hair brushed, an unfamiliar person touching and talking to them, the mirrors, the stimulating environment, etc. Ah… enough to send a sensory defensive child into a major “fight or flight” panic!! How unraveling it can be.

The solutions? Sensory strategies to calm the central nervous system AND sensory stories to calm the emotions and anxiety. This combination could make a world of difference! BOTH should be used in preparation several days to weeks prior to the scheduled appointment.

Sensory strategies would include:

1. A daily sensory diet with a lot of heavy work and proprioceptive activities.

2. Using The Wilbarger Deep Pressure Proprioceptive Technique (if trained).

3. Joint compressions, especially to the head and shoulders (if trained).

4. Facial massage.

5. Using powder to brush the pieces of hair off the neck, face, etc.

6. Wear a weighted vest, weighted lap pad, or compression shirt during hair cut.

7. Washing hair immediately before appointment at home in the bath/shower where comfortable and familiar so they can avoid tipping their head backwards over the salon’s sink (very disturbing for vestibular issues and/or gravitational insecurity).

8. Making the appointment for a time of the day when the child is most “calm” and “organized”.

9. Finding a hairdresser with patience, a soothing voice, who will explain each step or warn the child before each step, willing to give the child a short break if needed, one willing to book an hour instead of half hour in case needed, etc.

Now, complement these sensory strategies with a Social Story…

Since I am not officially trained in the specifics myself, I cannot give you an actual story, but it can be made with someone who is trained. Besides, the general rule of thumb is to make it individualized to the child himself anyway.

However, the general guidelines would be as follows.

First, the Sensory Story will need to talk about what to expect at the salon: the who, what, when, where and why. These are the “Descriptive Sentences”- “truthful, opinion-free, assumption-free, statements of the facts.” (

Second, the story will need to talk about what to expect from the hairdresser and/or what other children experience when getting their haircut. This will be done through the “Perspective Sentences”- “describes the thoughts, feelings, or mood of other people. They talk about what is motivating other people to do what they do.” (

Lastly, the Social Story will help the child handle the haircut appointment. It will do this through “Directive Sentences”- “ identifying a suggested response or a choice of responses to a situation. With a directive sentence, you are gently directing the child’s behavior.” ( This is where some of the child’s new skills and sensory strategies will come into play (in addition to the ones used to prepare the child beforehand).

The story can be introduced to the child a few weeks prior to the appointment. It can be read daily and you can even practice using the skills and sensory strategies recommended by his therapist. And, make sure you bring the story to the appointment to read one more time as you wait for your hairdresser to call the child. It’s about making the unfamiliar familiar.

I personally believe, the COMBINATION of sensory integrative therapy, specific sensory strategies, and Social Stories could just be the master plan! Can YOU see the potential?? I surely can!

Putting Social Stories To Use

With these thoughts in mind, here is what I suggest…

1. Find out all you can about Social Stories; what they are, how and why they are used, when to use them and for whom. Also, find out how to write them. Additionally, read examples of as many social stories as you can and even purchase some to help you write them for your child. Go to the official Social Stories website for all the resources you will need…

2. Work with a trained professional (OT, SLP, psychologist, etc.) to create specific social stories for your particular child and their particular needs.

3. Know that there are MANY social stories available as “templates”, written by Carol Gray herself. These are very comprehensive books and I highly recommend them if you are thinking of using social stories in your child’s life.

The New Social Story Book

My Social Stories Book

These above listed books include the following Social Stories:

From, the "New Social Stories Book"

- Learning to chew gum
- Giving a gift
- Happiness is a good feeling
- Learning to help others
- How to give a hug
- How to greet someone
- How to make someone happy
- How to use the telephone
- Learning to play fair
- Receiving a treat in school
- Sharing
- Smiling
- Learning to shake someone's hand
- When do I say "Thank you" and "Excuse me"
- Looking while listening
- Can I hold the baby?
- I have a cat
- Playing with my dog
- Nightmares
- Using the shower
- Learning to shave
- Washing my hands
- Wearing clothes, shoes, and a new shirt
- Keeping others healthy when I cough
- Thermometers
- How to make brownies
- Eating at the table (e.g. trying a new food, manners, eating healthy, setting the table, etc.)
- Cleaning my room
- Turning off lights
- Vacuum cleaners
- Getting the mail
- Picking flowers
- Time to play quietly
- Playing outside
- Going to school (getting ready, riding the bus, walking to the bus, etc.)
- Teachers (listening to the teacher, substitute teachers, asking questions, waiting to speak, etc.)
- Ways to stay calm in class
- Recess
- Fire alarm/drill
- Announcements
- Homework
- Escalators
- Riding in a car
- Wearing seat belts
- Going through the car wash
- Going to church
- Going to the library
- Getting a haircut
- Eating at a restaurant
- Waiting for a table
- Going out to eat
- Talking in a restaurant
- Eating with my fingers
- Going shopping
- Getting new shoes
- Hail
- Rainy days
- Snow angels
- Thunderstorms
- When the lights go out
- Valentine's Day
- National anthem
- Fourth of July fireworks
- When I swim
- Vacations
- Going to the zoo
- Going to see a play
- Going to the ballpark
- Playing video games
- How to write a social story

From Carol's first book, "My Social Stories Book":

- Using the toilet
- Washing hands
- Brushing teeth
- Taking medicine
- Blowing your nose
- Wearing new clothes
- Dressing for the weather
- Taking a nap
- Getting a haircut
- Clipping fingernails and toenails
- Taking a bath
- Washing your hair
- Bedtime and sleeping
- Unexpected (loud) noises
- Time (actual time, "hurry up" and "being late", etc.)
- Playdates
- Babysitters
- Divorce
- Why do adults forget? What helps them to remember?
- Running errands
- Checking out in line
- Visiting places
- Eating out in a restaurant
- Going to school
- Going to the doctor


(Listings from

Additionally, Carol Gray offers Story Movies! Click here to learn more.

Here are some other specific social story books by Natural Learning Concepts:

Social Stories Books By Natural Learning Concepts

Includes the following titles:

"Social Story - Getting Angry and Sharing"
"Social Story - Talking About My Day & When Things Change"
"Social Story - Fire Drills and Assembly"
"Social Story - Answering Questions & Saying Hi and Bye"
"Social Story - Saying Excuse me and Please & thank you"
"Social Story - The Beach & the Playground"
"Social Story - The Restaurant and the Movies"

The ideas and concepts behind Social Stories can work great for SPD kids, as far as I am concerned! Remember, they should be used in addition to sensory integrative therapy and using sensory strategies before, during and after. They should not replace the therapeutic strategies that will be needed to address the underlying sensory processing issues. I see many potential benefits!

4. You can also use SENSORY Stories (a new take on social stories!):

“Sensory Stories are a method to allow children with sensory modulation issues to cope with everyday experiences. They are in a format that allows children to employ calming strategies throughout the course of specific daily activities like combing hair, going to the dentist and many common school activities. When read on a regular basis, Sensory Stories enable children to engage in life.”(

Read about how Sensory Stories work and how they help our SPD kids! Click Here!

Here are some additional stories… Sensory Stories, specifically for kids with SPD!

And, here you can customize your own sensory stories for kids with SPD and related sensory issues!

[NOTE: Currently, Jana, an OT student is working with her professor on researching the use of social stories with SPD kids. I am excited to see the results! She has copies of these stories and can be contacted if you want to try them with your children. She would be happy to include you in her research. The more we get involved in the development, the sooner we can use them with our kids. What a great resource these can be in addition to the usual social stories. You can contact her at: to receive the stories and be included (via email) in her research.]

I hope you see the potential of both Social Stories AND Sensory Stories like I do. I think we are on to something here! I hope you have a chance to check out the resources and links I have suggested throughout the newsletter. It would be well worth any time you invest to learn more about, and use, them. Work with your OT, SLP, counselor, etc to develop Social Stories for your child. I think it will make a difference. And, remember... they can be adapted and lengthened for adolescents and adults too.

If you want to be trained on how to write Social Stories using Carol Gray's methods, upcoming workshops can be found here. Other presenters and workshops based on Carol Gray's work can be found here.

Thanks for taking time to be with me today. I hope to see you all again next month!

Until then... take good care.

Michele Mitchell

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