Social narratives are simple stories that visually represent social situations and appropriate social behaviors. The social narrative connects the important details of a setting or social situation to support the person with ASD in understanding the social context and in developing a new social skill. While most individuals generally understand social norms and conventions, individuals with ASD may need explicit instruction to understand these norms.
The social narrative focuses the individual’s attention on only the key details of a situation. It can support understanding and performance. The narrative typically tells the individual what the appropriate behavior is (i.e., what it looks like in concrete terms), when the behavior should be displayed, and for some learners, why this is the appropriate response.
A social narrative might include the following parts:
- A brief description of the situation
- What the individual with ASD thinks, feels, does, or says in this situation
- What others may think, feel, do, or say in this situation
- Description of appropriate response or behavior in that situation
- Explanation of why that response or behavior is appropriate
- How the better behavior/appropriate response will benefit the person with ASD
It is so important to adjust the number and complexity of details to meet the needs of the individual.
Some basic guidelines for creating social narratives
Focus on one sub-skill or issue at time. Do not overwhelm the individual by targeting too many concepts or skills in one social narrative.
Embed visual cues as needed. While some individuals read and retain written information easily, many with ASD will need pictures to support comprehension. You can obtain images from Google images, personal photographs, hand-drawings, and various online and subscription-based applications. Highlighting, underlining or bolding certain words can also draw attention to the most important parts.
For those with limited reading skills, include both written information and pictures. Limit written text and use only key words and phrases.
Positively frame the narrative. Instead of emphasizing what not to do, emphasize what to do. Describe the appropriate behavior. For some with ASD, it is important to also convey why it is appropriate.
Personalize the story. Use the individual’s name or photograph in the story, or write the story in first person.
Reading the narrative once will not be enough. Social narratives are most effective when used within a broader framework of high quality, direct instruction that involves repeated practice and reinforcement. For some, role-play may be appropriate. For example, if you are reviewing a narrative about what will happen on the first day at a new middle school, it is also important for the individual to actually practice going to a locker and transitioning from class to class, before the first day.
Read the narrative just before the individual is expected to apply that skill. This is called priming. For example, review a narrative about sharing swings at the playground just before the individual goes to the park.
The Autism Society of North Carolina is building a library of social narratives on our website. We hope you will find them helpful.
Social narratives have been identified as an evidence-based practice in autism intervention. Learn more here:
Louise Southern, M.Ed., BCBA, Associate Clinical Director, can be reached at email@example.com or 919-743-0204.
ASNC’s Clinical Department staff is composed of PhD and master’s-level licensed psychologists, Board Certified Behavior Analysts, and former special education teachers. We provide individualized intensive consultation using evidence-based practices to support children and adults across the spectrum in home, school, employment, residential, and other community-based contexts. We also deliver workshops to professionals on a wide range of topics including but not limited to, strategies to prevent and respond to challenging behaviors, best practices in early intervention, functional communication training, and evidence-based practices in instruction for K-12 students with autism.
To find out more, contact us at 919-390-7242 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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