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“Social stories” as an effective method to foster pragmatic communication skills in primary school children with (high-functioning) autism spectrum disorder

Background and aims

In English-speaking countries, the Social Stories (Gray, 2001, 2010) approach is a widespread and evaluated concept for promoting social interaction and communication skills in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Social Stories are also being increasingly used in German-speaking countries, but as yet no research on their effectiveness in German-speaking regions is available.


This research project focused on the following two research questions: 

  • Can the use of individually customized Social Stories be shown to improve selected practical communication skills in high-functioning children with ASD?
  • Can a possible gain in skills be shown to generalize to other contexts outside the context of the intervention?


In an intervention study at the University of Applied Sciences of Special Needs Education we examined the effect of using Social Stories on defined practical communication skills. Over a period of 10 weeks, four boys aged 4 to 9 years were promoted using Social Stories twice a week, first in an individual setting and then in a group of two. The intervention study comprised controlled case studies following a multiple baseline design (MBD), with the criteria of observation of several persons and different behaviours. We focused mainly on appropriate use of eye contact, initiation and maintenance of a conversation, and turn taking during joint activities.  All sessions were videotaped and then subjected to category-guided qualitative and quantitative analyses. In addition, before and after the intervention, parents filled in the Fragebogen zum Pragmatischen Profil (Dohmen, Dewart, & Summers, 2009) on children’s communication skills.


A first result of the study concerns the applicability of the Social Stories approach. In combination with other classical elements of promoting social skills in children with ASD (such as structured teaching via the TEACCH method, rules and reinforcement systems), the approach can very well draw on the skills and interests of children with high language and cognitive functioning. The results concerning the effectiveness of Social Stories for development of pragmatic communication skills were less conclusive. Although the parent questionnaires found definite improvements in several social interaction and communication behaviours, the quantitative evaluation revealed only few significant differences. Positive developments were perceived and described by parents as well as therapists but could be demonstrated quantitatively using applied research methods only in a limited way.  

Based on the findings of this phase of the research project, we then offered a 10-week group social training programme in a group to three of the children who had participated in the study. These sessions were also regularly videotaped and evaluated qualitatively.  



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