Social Stories for Helping Kids Understand and Adjust to Our New Normal

Children with autism and other disabilities sometimes struggle with understanding situations or conversations that aren’t presented in a literal, straightforward way, which can often lead to anxiety, frustration, and meltdowns. Many of our kids also rely on structure and routine, and don’t always handle disruptions well. The Covid-19 pandemic is a complex situation that not only upended our lives and completely changed our routines, but has also brought about many questions that are not always easy to explain (for example, “Why am I not going back to school?” “How long will this last?” “Why can I still not see my friends?” “Why is everyone wearing a mask?”). Luckily, social stories can help our kiddos understand and adapt to challenging circumstances like these. 

An illustrated page with a white background reads "Distance Learning: What is it?" There is a cartoon student with shoulder-length light hair sitting in a red chair wearing a bright green top, pink pants, and bright green shoes. The student smiles and types on a keyboard, which is attached to a computer screen showing another cartoon student's face on it. This student has curly brown hair pulled into pigtails with purple bows and wears a purple shirt. The page beside it has a drawing of a red school building with a bell at the top, and there is a large X through the drawing of the school. The text below it reads" Sometimes, when schools are closed, I need to do something called distance learning."
Image courtesy of Autism Little Learners

Social stories — created in 1991 by Carol Gray to help people develop greater social understanding — are short descriptions of a situation, event, or activity that include specific information about what to expect and why. Social stories can be written as a string of short sentences, but they are often illustrated and can look like a comic strip or picture book. 

These stories are available on a range of topics and can be used to help people learn self-care skills — such as how to brush their teeth, wash their hands, and get dressed — and social skills, such as sharing, saying please and thank you, asking for help, and more. They can also help people understand how others might respond or behave in a certain situation, improve behaviors, and cope with changes in routine and distressing events. Knowing what will or could happen often greatly reduces stress and anxiety for people with autism and other disabilities; however, plans sometimes change (as we know all too well by now!), so it’s important to present information in a way that allows for unexpected changes. 

We’ve gathered some great free resources for social stories that you can share with your kiddos to help them understand our new normal, from social distancing and wearing masks to distance learning and more. We suggest laminating the social story for durability or placing the pages in sheet protectors in a binder.

We hope you find these helpful, especially as more questions come up about the school year and why distance learning is continuing. Please feel free to share other social stories you’ve found helpful in the comments. 

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