What Are Social Skills?

November 4th, 2015

Social Stories, Video Modeling and Play Scripts

by Janice Kern, Chapter Coordinator – TACA of North Dakota

Social Stories

What is a social story?

A social story is both a story and a teaching tool about social events, situations, or skills. Social stories can be used to provide information about a situation (especially a novel situation, something very new to a child), or to explain a new concept – why something is done, or how it is done.

Reading a social story is like practicing for a play. It gives the child an opportunity to rehearse a situation before the child actually experiences it. Writing my own social stories has worked well. Finding a prewritten social story that meets your child’s specific needs is rare. By the time you find that perfect social story, you could have written your own.

Things to remember when writing a social story:
Be clear and keep the focus on the desired behavior. If you want to see more “hands to yourself” and less hitting, focus the story on positive alternatives; the undesired behavior of hitting should not be emphasized. Repeat that desired behavior throughout the social story. Avoid using negatives (like ‘don’t’); keeping language positive keeps your expectations clear.

Keep it simple. Too many words can make processing more difficult. Too wordy:

I want to be good and have lots of friends so I need to be nice and keep my hands off of people.

A better example:

I have good manners. I keep my hands by my own legs.


I keep my hands by my sides.

Focus the social story on a single skill. If the desired behavior is keeping hands at sides, don’t switch to other concepts like “making my friends happy” or “being kind” during the story. Stick with “hands at sides” or “hands to myself”.

The story must be accurate. If something happens at the end of the story, it has to occur in the real-life situation. The child relies on the social story to help an unfamiliar event or skill seem more familiar and comfortable. For the stories to be effective, the child must be able to trust that they’re true. This is especially important if a reward is promised at the end.

Social stories are written in the first person and are usually written in the present tense.

Use descriptive sentences. Address the wh’s of the situation (who, why, when, if I ____, then ____ will happen).

Include others’ perspective or feelings. “I keep my hands to myself and this makes my friends comfortable/happy”. Kids with autism have difficulty relating to what other people are thinking or feeling; social stories provide an opportunity to explain other points of view.

For children with solid language skills, a control sentence can be beneficial. Control sentences are written by the child with autism, and are used to help the child attach personal meaning to the story. For example: “When I keep my hands to myself, my friends will be happy. I will know they are happy because they will say nice things to me.” or “I will know recess is over when the whistle blows because it’s like the teakettle. When the water is ready, the teakettle whistles.”

Pictures or other visual aids help with comprehension, especially for a child who isn’t a reader. Always pair words with pictures. You can find free clipart online, use a digital camera to take your own pictures, or even illustrate your stories yourself. The visuals don’t need to be elaborate. Don’t call your local artist to draw out a social story. Keep little notebooks with you, or use your smartphone or tablet to create stories on the fly when the situation calls for it.

Where to find social stories:


Online resources:

There are many books, curricula and even DVDs to teach social skills.

Model Me Kids’ Social Skills Lesson Plans

Conover Functional Skills System

Six tips to teach social skills and help kids make friends

TeacherVision includes a lot of resources for teaching social skills in schools. Printables too.

Sample social skills IEP goals

IEP Goal databank

Teaching Social Skills in the Language Arts Curriculum, a middle school teachers guide

Indiana University Autism Materials

An Introduction to Social Stories

Social Thinking

Newsletters and research on Social Skills


Books on social skills

The Social Skills Picture Book Teaching play, emotion, and communication to children with autism by Jed Baker

Social Skills Picture Book for High School and Beyond by Jed Baker

Preparing for Life: The Complete Guide for Transitioning to Adulthood for Those with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome by Jed Baker

Playing it Right! Social Skills Activities for Parents and Teachers of Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Including Asperger Syndrome and Autism by Rachael Bareket

Building Social Relationships: A Systematic Approach to Teaching Social Interaction Skills to Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Social Difficulties by Scott Bellini

Writing and Developing Social Stories by Caroline Smith

The Social Success Workbook for Teens: Skill-building Activities for Teens With Nonverbal Learning Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, & Other Social-skill Problems by Barbara Cooper

Super Skills by Judith Coucouvanis

The New Social Story Book, Revised and Expanded 10th Anniversary Edition: Over 150 Social Stories that Teach Everyday Social Skills to Children with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, and their Peers by Carol Gray

My Social Stories Book by Carol Gray

Comic Strip Conversations by Carol Gray

Navigating the Social World: A Curriculum for Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, High Functioning Autism and Related Disorders by Jeannie McAfee and Dr. Tony Attwood

Incorporating Social Goals in the Classroom: A Guide for Teachers and Parents of Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome by Rebecca A. Moyes

Social Skills for Teenagers and Adults with Asperger Syndrome: A Practical Guide to Day-to-day Life by Nancy J. Patrick

The Hidden Curriculum: Practical Solutions for Understanding Unstated Rules in Social Situations by Brenda Smith Myles


Social skills games






Summer camps for social skills








Video Modeling

Many children with autism love screen time. Using videos to model a desired skill is another effective teaching technique.

Smartphones and digital cameras make it easy to record videos. There are many free video editors at www.download.com.
Take video of your child, siblings, or other same-age peers demonstrating desired skills. For example, if you want to see more cooperative play with siblings, try to catch your child on film in the act of performing cooperative play. Show the child the video before play starts as a reminder of the kind of play that is expected. Edit out any undesirable behavior and show only what you want to see.
Alternatively, film a video model from the point of view of the child.
Click here to see a video sample called Playing A Game
Click here to see a video sample called What To Edit Out

Video sources:


Play scripts

Play scripts teach the child specific words and actions needed to interact with a peer. The script and the play time has a clear beginning and ending.

Why use a play script?

Play scripts help the child develop imagination, exploration, and reciprocity. Before writing a play script, consider the location. Where will this play take place? If there are certain toys needed for the play, will the toys be available? Consider the natural likes and especially the dislikes of the child. For example, some kids are very sensitive to sounds; avoiding musical instruments or other loud toys may help the play go more smoothly. Avoid distractions, especially if you are trying a script at school. Other activities nearby may make it hard to concentrate on the script. Above all, remember to make it fun! Yes, this is purposeful learning time, but you want this play to be so much fun that the child and peers will want to do it again and again.

Sample play script: Astronauts

Note: The title needs to be clear, natural, and easily used by children when they want to play it again, i.e., “Let’s play astronauts!”

Roles: Two astronauts (student and peer)

Props needed: Two helmets, two steering wheels, two chairs

The script:

  • Prompt student to choose a friend from pictures
  • Student: “Do you want to play astronauts?”
  • Peer: “Sure.”
  • Student: “Ok, follow us.”
  • Student, peer and adult go to speech room
  • Instructor: “Get your helmets on.”
  • Put helmets on and give each other the thumbs-up sign
  • Student: “Let’s get in the spaceship.”
  • Student and peer sit in chairs
  • Peer: “Buckle up.”


Roles: 2 students + teacher

Materials: 2 chairs, 2 steering wheels, 2 helmets

Script: Student is instructed to pick a friend to play.

  • Student: “Do you want to play astronauts with me?”
  • Friend: “Sure.”
  • Student: “Follow me.”
  • Student and friend are led to speech room for space to play astronauts. Have the materials box ready for play and say “Get your astronaut helmets on.”
  • Student and friend place helmets on heads and give each other a thumbs up sign. (prompt)
  • Student: “Let’s get in the spaceship.”
  • Student and friend sit in chairs (spaceship).
  • Friend: “Buckle up”
  • Student and friend pretend to put on seat belts.
  • Student: “Ready for take-off?”
  • Friend: “Yes, ready for take-off.”
  • Student and Friend together count-down: “10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 – BLAST OFF!”
  • Prompt for a variety of things after blast-off, such as, “What do you see out your spaceship window?” (Students can name planets or stars.)
  • Friend: “We’re almost ready to land on the moon.”
  • When they have landed on the moon, they can get out of their spaceship and walk around on the moon. They can look far away and see the earth and the sun. It can be cold and dark on the moon.
  • Prompt – It’s time to get back to earth.
  • Student: “Let’s get in the spaceship.”
  • Friend: “Buckle up.”
  • Student and friend: “Ready for take-off – 10, 9. . . . Blast off!”
  • They return to earth.
  • They remove helmets, unbuckle.
  • Student and friend high five each other: “It was great flying with you!”

Toys are put away in a box to be saved until this playscript is used again.

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Related Articles: Socialization and School Integration Ideas

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  1. […] social stories to help your child know what to expect. Keep everything basic and […]