Using Social Stories in Speech Therapy

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are a speech therapist who works with students on the autism spectrum, you might be interested in working with social stories. This lesson discusses some of the strategies involved in using social stories in speech therapy.

Social Stories in the Speech Therapy Setting

Cora has been working as the speech and language pathologist at Michaelson Elementary School for several years. This means that Cora's job is to meet with students who have speech and language goals on their IEPs (individual education programs), in one-on-one or small-group settings to help them develop their articulation, syntax, vocabulary, and pragmatic capacities with language. This year, Cora has seven students with autism spectrum disorders on her caseload, and she has been learning about some specific strategies for helping these students with language.

Cora knows that social stories are a key aspect of speech therapy for students with ASD. Social stories are anecdotes told in simple, scripted language from the point of view of a hypothetical student. The purpose of social stories is to provide students with explicit language and strategies for handling complex social and emotional situations.

Choosing a Topic

Cora knows that the first step in using social stories in a speech therapy session is choosing the right topic. She wants to choose topics that address areas where her students will have a high level of interest and motivation, but also where they can stand to develop some new language skills.

With younger students, social stories might be around topics like:

  • Sharing Toys
  • Asking for More of Something
  • Making a New Friend

Older elementary school students and students in adolescence might benefit from more complex and abstract topics, though Cora knows this depends on their developmental capacity. Some of the topics she thinks about include:

  • Making Up After an Argument
  • Having a Different Opinion
  • Asking for Help

Writing the Story

Once Cora has chosen a good topic for a student or small group, she writes the story. Of course, Cora knows that she can sometimes find pre-made social stories online or in books. She often likes these stories and modifies them to meet the needs of her specific students.

Sometimes, though, Cora knows she will want to start from scratch, so that the student really feels the personal elements of a story. Cora follows these criteria when writing original social stories:

  • She keeps language simple, with basic vocabulary and short sentences.
  • She ensures that the story provides at least one clear phrase that students will be able to internalize and repeat in the circumstance described.
  • She adds a few personal details that will make the story meaningful to her students.
  • She tries to limit each story to 350 words, when possible.
  • She chooses images or photographs of the student to complement the story.

Introducing the Story

Now, Cora is ready to introduce the social stories to her students. When introducing a social story, she briefly explains why she is using it. Then, she reads the story aloud to her students, and asks them what they think. She prompts her students to talk about any thoughts or feelings that come up when reading the story.

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