Using Social Stories

Otterman on Social Stories Pt 2

Choosing a Story Level

Every social story is offered in three levels, beginner, intermediate, and proficient.

It's important to know your student and to understand what you are trying to accomplish when choosing a level. When introducing a new social story, I often start with the beginner level, with less vocabulary and fewer questions than the intermediate and proficient levels. The beginner level is also a great place to start for students with limited expressive language.

That being said, sometimes I do start at the intermediate level. This is especially true when I work with students who possess more vocabulary and do not need as much picture support. Finally, the proficient level is great for moving students toward independence. As students progress to the next story level, I can gauge just how independent they have become with respect to a particular topic.

Special Demo Student

Speech Kingdom offers a very clever feature that allows you to practice with the app without having to pay for a practice student. You can easily determine the level you wish to select with a student by using this practice, or "demo student."

Demo Student has an avatar that can be customized, just like any other Speech Kingdom avatar. I use my demo student to explore, preview stories, and compare the differences in the three levels. Using Demo Student allows me to explore the app (including avatar creation) without interfering with live student data, scoring and reporting.

Creating Avatars

A key reason that Speech Kingdom'social stories are incredibly effective is because they include each student and their parent figure in every story.

The first name of your student's avatar is very important.

I work alongside my students and create two avatars (cartoon images of the student and their parent or other adult). First, I let the child create a character in their own image, choosing their gender, skin, hair, and eye color, hair texture, glasses and shirt color. Next, we create a parent or other responsible adult, by choosing those same characteristics.

our student's avatar appears in every scene of every story and is referred to by their first name. For this reason, I want to stress the importance of naming their avatar with the name they are most often called. This may not be the child's formal name. For example, William's avatar might be "Bill" or "Billy," while Elizabeth's avatar could be "Liz" or "Lizzie." This is immensely important to help the child identify with his or her avatar.

A natural phenomenon occurs when the child sees themselves in the story. They identify with their character and their attention to what is happening in the story is tremendously heightened.

Creating an avatar of themselves and their parent figure creates a strong bond between the child and the stories.


Illeism, or third person talk, is often used by very young children and naturally occurs with parents, early on, when they interact with their children. Illeism reduces the confusion and vagueness that often occurs through the use of pronouns. Illeism also provides children with examples of positive self-talk. For example, Joe might say, "Joe was able to stay in his seat." or "What choice did Joe make?"

Illeism to Self-Talk

Embedding the "child" in each story leads to third person talk, such as, "Billy wants to play." Once a child takes this step, there is a natural transition to self-talk, such as "I want to play." Through the student's avatar, I use third person conversations to ask my student questions. My goal is to lead the student from seeing that their avatar wants to play to realizing that they are their avatar. Eventually, "Billy wants to play" becomes "I want to play."

We all use self-talk. It is our internal voice. Using an avatar of the child in each story allows us to naturally teach positive self-talk. I use affirming statements to comment on the child in the story, using their name. The child identifies with the avatar as himself or herself. We start by discussing what is happening in the story, speaking in the third person about the child. "What did Joe do?" or "Joe made a great choice!" Once again, my goal is to lead the student to seeing that they are their avatar and transitioning from "Joe made a great choice!" to "I made a great choice!"

I use Speech Kingdom's social stories to teach my students positive self-talk, creating concrete personal memories of positive outcomes and leading to independent successes with future trials.

Open Ended Questions

We are all wired to desire success. I am acutely aware of this when I find myself succeeding at something and talking about it with others. I then create a positive memory of this experience because I want to replicate it again in the future. We can reinforce this learning or these memories by intervening and asking the child open ended questions. "What choice did Joe make?" "How did Joe feel?"

When coupled with social stories, open ended questions increase and reinforce language while providing positive social interactions.

Inner Thoughts and Theory of Mind

Theory of Mind is the ability to understand the desires, intentions, and beliefs of others and to recognize the fact that they may differ from person to person.

You may ask, "Why are inner thoughts included in the social stories?" As I stated earlier, children with limited Theory of Mind struggle to see the perspectives of others and have difficulty paying attention when they are not directly involved.

The ability for my students to see their own inner thoughts as well as the inner thoughts of others helps them to better understand the perspectives of others.

For students on the autism spectrum and those with disabilities affecting their ability to process information, limited Theory of Mind is often a daily struggle. It is a cause of stress and frustration. Recognizing your own inner thoughts, and acknowledging that others have inner thoughts that may differ, helps us recognize and understand the perspectives of others.

As we understand the perspectives and the points of view of others, stress and frustration are reduced.

Inner Thoughts and Yellow Halos

Each of Speech Kingdom's social stories feature inner thoughts of their characters, who glow with a yellow halo whenever they have an inner thought to share. When available, I decide if hearing a character's inner thought would help my student gain perspective.

Inner thoughts can contribute to independence for students. As they gain independence with social stories, inner thoughts help them independently manipulate the program and become increasingly successful. Gaining perspective helps a child internalize various situations and achieve success answering questions about a social story. These questions might be the comprehension questions provided by Speech Kingdom in every social story or questions posed by me (or both).

When a student begins to discuss a social story and answer questions, I begin to see (and celebrate) their deeper understanding. This often occurs before they are able to fully transition the social story situation into their own real-life experiences.

Comprehension Questions

Each social story offers comprehension questions after the last scene. The number of questions, format and difficulty varies for each level. Intermediate and Proficient level social stories offer one comprehension question at the end of each scene in addition to those after the last scene.

I always review the questions prior to presenting them to my students. I like to be familiar with the questions and vocabulary so I am best prepared to lead my students through the questions. When my students answer the questions with me, I see, first hand, where they struggle. This also promotes more in depth discussion of the vocabulary in isolation.

Sometimes I turn off the comprehension questions in the story settings. This is especially helpful when I introduce a social story for the first time or when I think that questions may cause anxiety for a student. I may also reduce the number of answers in the multiple choice answer bank as well (intermediate level only) when appropriate.

Rewards and Reinforcers

Speech Kingdom provides an extensive library of rewards and reinforcers. These animations add to a student's feeling of accomplishment and help to maintain their interest and focus. His or her avatar might hit a baseball out of the park, do a cannonball into a pool, perform gymnastics, or one of many other choices. I can choose the reinforcer or let Speech Kingdom randomly choose from their extensive library, to celebrate accomplishment. I like to begin by choosing a reinforcer based on the child's interests and notice a high level of interest and concentration when my students know that they will be rewarded at the end of each story.

I often change the reinforcers that I use. It's easy. When I do so, my students look forward to the unexpected positive experience of being surprised with a new animation, such as seeing their avatar swing a light saber or perform karate.

Positive experiences increase the rate of retention of information and create a desire to repeat that experience.

As the reinforcers change, some students express their desire to see specific animations. I take advantage of this by allowing them to choose the reinforcers themselves. I notice that when I give my students a choice, they feel more independent and engaged.

Downloadable PDF Worksheets

Each social story contains a link to a unique downloadable PDF worksheet that matches the level of that story.

Beginner level worksheets are picture based and consist of a group of pictures taken from the story If the student is a male, the pictures depict boys. If the student is a girl, girls are depicted. Opposite the pictures are vocabulary words, each of which corresponds to a picture. The student draws a line from each word to its corresponding picture.

Intermediate level worksheets are presented in a fill-in-the-blank format. There is a word bank at the top of the page. Sentences appear below the word bank, each of which is missing a word. Each word in the word bank is labeled, so the student has the option of filling in the blanks with a word's label, or writing the word in the blank.

Advanced level worksheets take the same format as the intermediate worksheets, with only one difference. There are twice as many sentences and choices in the advanced level worksheets.

Worksheets use language that is referenced in its corresponding social story. I use worksheets to front-load vocabulary, to reinforce, and to check for comprehension. Worksheets are a great way to revisit the skill being taught as well as collect evidence of student progress.

Worksheets become even more valuable of a tool when presented and used at IEPs.