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Do Social Stories Change Behaviour?

Any of us working in the field of ABA and special education have seen our share of social stories. They are promoted in schools, at home and in many settings that our kiddos find themselves. What I’ve never seen is a child who isn’t able to greet others, reads a social story about appropriate greetings and then, like magic, is suddenly able to greet others appropriately.

What is the place for social stories in Behavior Analysis and how should they be used?

What Does the Research Say?

A study done by Kokina and Kern (2010) entitled, “Social Story interventions for students with autism spectrum disorder: a meta-analysis” discussed the effect of social stories in promoting behaviour change. The results indicated that only 7% (3 out of 41) showed that the positive behaviour change was due to a social story. Video modeling paired together with a social story was effective but video modeling is also effective on its own so do we really need the social story??

Incorporate Role Play

There is a time and a place for social stories. Our kiddos will likely encounter them through school or other resources. As ABA professionals, we can help increase the effectiveness of social stories by incorporating other teaching methods like role play, feedback, and video modeling. According to research done by Leaf, et al (2009), using a Teaching Interaction procedure was more effective than social stories in teaching appropriate behaviour to children with autism.

Teaching Interaction Procedure

There are six essential steps to a teaching interaction procedure (in any order):

  1. Label and identify

Tell the student what they are working on. Clearly define the behaviour and when and where to use the skill. Also include when and where to NOT use the skill.

2. Rationale

The rationale for the skill should be something meaningful. Explain why the student should do the behaviour. For example, “If I share, my friends will invite me to play.” Avoid blanket rationales like, “because it’s nice/polite” or adult rationales like, “because I told you so”

3. Description and demonstration

Break the behaviour down into smaller steps.   Provide a demonstration of both appropriate and inappropriate ways (eg: An appropriate greeting versus an inappropriate greeting)

4. Practice

Set up simulated situations for the student to display the behaviour. These situations should be similar to real-life. Initially, the situations should be obvious (eg: “We’re going to practice this right now”). Over time, start delaying by saying something like, “Sometime later, this will happen.”

5. Feedback

Provide immediate positive feedback with at least 3-4 things the student did correctly. Also tell them what they did incorrectly.   There should be a balance of feedback and being motivating.

6. Role Play

Practice, practice, practice


It’s important to account for generalization training. Teach the student how to display the skill across multiple people, places, and time. Practice the skill when the situations are predictable and also when it’s not predictable. You can also generalize by fading external reinforcement when the child meets criteria.

Watch our YouTube video here!

Read our post on how to write an effective social story here!

7 thoughts on “Do Social Stories Change Behaviour?”

  1. I had a question about escape and fear, children that would have to deal with this extreme fear would be 3-4 years old when we encounter aba and would use such techniques that will allow them to escape the fear. If this child is trying to communicate “I can’t I’m scared”- aka fight or flight, and he or she is nonverbal but made to stay in scary situation, what happens to this child’s voice of saying no during uncomfortable situations?

    What happens if a sexual predator is around this child that was taught he or she can’t feel what they need to feel and unable to say no because there no doesn’t matter?

    What type of mental health issues are we setting up for these kids?

  2. Hi Amanda – that’s a great question. A positive behaviour intervention should focus on providing skills and not forcing children into uncomfortable situations. Starting with a functional assessment, we would determine the function of the behaviour. Part of a functional assessment is determining if it is necessary to even interfere at all – maybe it’s ok that the child isn’t in these situations ( If it’s determined that it’s in the child’s best interests to tolerate such situations, it would be done combined with functional communication training (they can tell us when they need to leave) and with slow systematic desensitization.
    My children were initially frightened and overwhelmed during their first few swimming lessons and would have wanted to skip it. But, being near water, I felt it was important to teach them to persist and learn the skill despite them being uncomfortable. My kids often say they don’t want to do things but sometimes they have to do it anyway : ) There’s always a balance between giving kids a voice, making them feel heard, and sometimes helping them through a situation that they might find difficult because it’s in their best interests. In no shape or form should a child’s voice be silenced.

  3. Do you believe that Social Stories are a good tool to use to introduce something new such as an upcoming field trip, going to a new school, an arrival of a new baby sister or brother, or moving?

    1. Hi! Social stories are not actually an evidence-based approach to changing behavior. However, when used in conjunction with strategies like role play, BST, reinforcement, etc. it can be a very user-friendly way to introduce changes. If you feel like it helps – go for it!

  4. Hello, I would like to ask about joining 2 interventions for example joining the ABA intervention with social story intervention. Are the children who use ABA intervention can also use social story intervention to improve their social skills?

    1. You can definitely use both interventions. However, there isn’t any real research to support that social stories change behavior. ABA interventions would rely on interventions that have strong empirical research to support it

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