Back to School Social Story for kids on the Spectrum

Mother holding hand of little daughter with backpack outdoors

The beginning of a new school year always brings about a myriad of emotions that can range from excitement and joy to nervousness and anxiety. For M and I, we have found that most of the nervousness and anxiety come from a lack of knowledge about the coming year.

Early on in M’s school career, we began working with the school to prepare her for the first day. Knowing that social stories worked well for her, I began using some that I found in the bookstore and online. I also took her to visit the school prior to the new school year starting. The problem was, none of the social stories I was using truly fit what was going to happen for her. We would go to the school and it wouldn’t match what we had been reading in the story; the main issue for M being that the pictures were different and her school looked nothing like we had read about. I talked to her school to see if they would be willing to allow me to come in with M to take photos of anything that could be relevant in her upcoming year; the entrance to the school, the classroom, her teacher, etc. I took those pictures and crafted a new social story around her first day. She loved it. It became real to her. For several years M would take the story with her on the first day- I think it made her feel better to have it. It seemed like it was a sort of bridge from summer, to theory to reality. We don’t really use the social stories much anymore, but we do still visit her school prior to her new school year starting. In a way, I miss doing that project with her every year but I am so proud of how far she’s come.

Johnna and M

Young M ready for the first day of school.

This Back-To-School social story is a little different then most of the stories we post; this one is customizable to your child. Please take the time to set up a meeting with your child’s school (the principal and secretary are there over the summer) to come in, take pictures and talk to them about the details that will be important for relieving some anxieties for your child and to increase their awareness about what’s happening on the first day. This will help them navigate with a much higher degree of success than if they go in “cold”. I strongly recommend you take your child with you and take pictures of them in front of or in their new classroom, in front of the school, with their teacher (if they’re there-they’re often not), on the playground, etc. Take as many as you can and then sit down with your child and make it a fun project to make their Back-To-School story all about them.

*You may remove any pages that do not apply to your child so as not to confuse them.

**If your child will be changing classes for different subjects, print as many of Page 6 to add to your story as applicable to your child. This should include specials as well as academic classes such as, art, music, PE, math, social studies, science, etc.

Below, you’ll see a snippet of the first three pages of this social story. Unlike most of our other social stories, this one is free. Please feel free to download and personalize it to your child’s needs! We hope this helps start your school year off right with your loved one on the spectrum.



4th of July Social Story for Children on the Autism Spectrum

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The 4th of July is a classic American holiday, signaling fun and excitement for most people. For those on the Autism Spectrum, however, July 4th can be overwhelming, stressful and downright scary. July 4th tends to spell changes in routine, includes large crowds of people in chaotic environments as well as the loud noises and bright flashes produced by fireworks. That makes the 4th of July an ideal opportunity to explore the potential benefits of social stories on your loved one.

Reading a social story with your loved one can help alleviate some of the anxieties around a holiday like this one. Reading the story frequently in the days leading up to the 4th has worked well for my daughter. I allow her to take the print out of the story with her wherever we go on the 4th. She likes to look at the pictures to remind herself everything that’s happening is okay; the stories seem to reassure her. Not every child will need the on-hand reminder, so consider asking your child what would make them the most comfortable, or simply taking it with you in case they have trouble and need it.

We’ve made the high quality, printable version of this social story available for download as a PDF in our store, but we’ve included screen shots below so you have the chance to look through the story to make sure it’s a good fit for your family.

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(We do ask you to keep in mind that we pay to have these stories professionally designed and edited and do our best to make them available at a low enough cost to allow everyone to afford them. Please feel free to share the link to our store, but please don’t steal our file by downloading extra copies for friends.)

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A Social Story is a widely used tool in the Autism community, but few know a lot about their history or their guidelines. Social Stories are used to provide guidance or directions about how to respond in different types of social situations. Carol Gray developed Social Stories in 1990, and trademarked them. The first Social Story was published back in 1993. Carol Gray has not endorsed or reviewed these stories. This tool worked for us but may not work for everyone. Nothing posted should ever be a substitution for medical advice or the advice from a team working with your child.





Intro to Social Stories

Cute girl with mom reading a book

Back when Jen, Ariel and I were first talking about relaunching A Flexible Life and what type of content we’d like to create, a frequent topic of conversation was my experience working with the Autism community and some of the resources I used to have a hard time finding.  M was diagnosed a dozen years ago when there wasn’t nearly as much help available for families, and I spent a lot of time figuring things out through trial and error and the help of other parents.  One of our goals here at A Flexible Life is to put our skills to use to help provide some of those tools for other families.

One of the common tools I used with M was something called Social Stories.  I used them quite a bit to help my daughter understand what was expected of her in a variety of situations.  It was a tool introduced to me by her support staff back when she was two years old, and it worked well!  Her staff and I wrote them all the time to help M.  It was just something we did, and I imagine it’s something many families have done to help their kids too.

So exactly what is a Social Story?

A Social Story is a widely used tool in the Autism community, but few know a lot about their history or their guidelines.  Social Stories are used to provide guidance or directions about how to respond to different types of social situations.  Carol Gray developed Social Stories in 1990 and trademarked them.  The first Social Story was published back in 1993.

‘Social Stories’ has been routinely capitalized as a proper noun for several years to distinguish the ‘genuine’ Stories that meet all of the current defining criteria.   The word ‘Story’ or ‘Stories’ is also capitalized if used in reference to a genuine Social Story.  When ‘story’ or ‘social stories’ appears without capitalization, it means that the story or stories met the requirements of the definition at one time, but would not be considered a Social Story today.  I will not be capitalizing “Social Story(ies)” when referencing the stories we post here because while we will do our best to adhere to the guidelines, we are not professionals or experts; we are simply posting stories that I have written and used to help my child.  Every child with Autism or other developmental delays is different, and these may or may not work for you and your child, but my hope is that either they will, or they will give you a great starting point that you can customize to meet your and your child’s needs.

So, what are the guidelines for writing a Social Story?  They’re fairly simple.  However, specific adherence can sometimes be a little challenging.   As I said, I try to adhere to them, but when helping my daughter, I was also willing to be lax on the “rules” to meet her needs and hopefully help her to navigate the situation with the highest degree of success possible.  I would encourage you to do the same.  Follow the “rules” as best you can, but don’t forget to look at what is best for your child.

You can read through the guidelines as delineated by Vanderbilt Kennedy Center by downloading this PDF about Social Stories from their website.

Creating these stories from scratch can be time-consuming, and I often ended up with a mishmash of images styles and pictures I could find from the limited resources available.  Had the Internet been then what it is now, I imagine I would have been able to share the stories I created while borrowing stories others had created, rather than making everything from scratch.  Since one of the three of us is a skilled graphic designer, it seemed like a natural choice for Ariel and me to join forces to create great stories with beautiful, child-friendly images that were consistent and supported the story.

We will be posting a variety of stories for a variety of situations, so check back with us to see what’s new.  If you have a need for a story about an upcoming social situation, don’t hesitate to ask!  Many people have similar needs so we’ll see what we can do to accommodate those needs.  Not every need can be specifically addressed, but you never know until you ask!