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What are visual stories?

Carol Gray created social stories in 1991. A social story is a useful tool to support social communication and interaction for autistic children. The stories are a visual representation of social situations explained simply and broken down into small steps. 

Social stories can help explain:

  • routine or change of plan
  • perceptions
  • academic material/self-help skills
  • coping strategies
  • feedback

How to write a visual story

Firstly, you need a target for the story. For example, do you want to prepare your child for a new school? Or perhaps support them with brushing their teeth?

The next step is to observe the situation and try to guess what is motivating the current responses. Perhaps your child is unsure about moving school because they don’t want to leave their friends.

A social story should be within the comprehension level of the child using appropriate language and print size​. It is usually written in the first person, present tense as though describing the events as they occur​. However, if you have an upcoming situation use future tense to make it less scary. Use pictures, photos or symbols to enhance the​ meaning of the story​.


Different types of sentence

There are 3 basic types of sentences to use in visual stories:

  1. Descriptive sentences​ define where a situation occurs, who is involved, what they are doing and why.​ For example, “the bell rings for the children to come in from playtime and they go to their classroom”​.
  2. Prescriptive sentences​ describe the reactions and feelings of others in a given situation.​ For example, “when the bell rings for playtime to end, the teacher is happy to see all the children walk quietly to their classroom”.​
  3. ​Directive sentences​ have examples of possible responses. Such as, “if I’m sad at school, I can speak to my teacher”.


Getting started with visual stories

Start the story with a simple phrase. Then, introduce social stories in a quiet setting​ one at a time, allowing the child to focus on one concept. Sit with your child and read in a gentle tone that matches the reassuring text​.

It is recommended that the story is reviewed once a day initially, just prior to the situation described if for a recurring task. Additions or revisions can be implemented as understanding increases.

Take a look at an example of a visual story.

Additional resources

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