New research indicates that video modeling is effective in enhancing social communication and functional skills in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Video modeling entails watching a video of a desired behavior and then imitating that behavior. Video models can be used with peers, siblings or adults (Bellini & Akullian, 2007). A similar intervention, video self-modeling, allows the individual to imitate targeted behaviors by observing him or herself successfully performing a behavior on video.
Research suggests that children are more likely to respond to a model that they perceive as skillful, and who are similar to themselves, either by physical characteristics, age, group, affiliation or ethnicity.
Promoting and Maintaining New Skills
These interventions not only help individuals with autism learn new skills and maintain them over time, but also have met evidenced-based practice standards. To meet these standards, the intervention must be studied by at least three different researchers in three separate geographical locations, and the combined studies must include at least 20 total participants (Horner, Carr, Halle, McGee, Odom et al., 2005). Video modeling and video self-modeling have met these criteria and are considered to be evidence-based interventions by the Council for Exceptional Children.
Video modeling and video self-modeling are especially helpful interventions for children and adolescents with ASD because they help individuals see that they can accomplish tasks being modeled. Individuals on the spectrum attend more closely to a video model, as compared to a live model in which external distractions such as noise, lighting, or other activities might inhibit learning. Video models eliminate social distractions and anxiety, which may significantly improve one’s ability to focus on a new learning task.
Easing Anxiety While Learning
Children with ASD typically focus on details, rather than the bigger picture, so watching these videos also helps increase their attention to the desired behavior reflected in the video.
For many individuals, watching a video creates less anxiety than interacting with a person and is more likely to promote learning. The positive gains–new skills or desired behaviors–from this intervention are maintained for months after the intervention is over. This is particularly important for children and adolescents with autism who have difficulty transferring skills from one setting to another.
The reason these interventions are successful may be because they integrate a visually-cued instruction. Research shows that using video models is particularly effective for children who enjoy watching videos and prefer visual learning. These interventions can be implemented with minimal human interaction which, again, reduces much of the distress and anxiety related to social interactions for children with autism (Bellini & Akullian, 2007).
Enhanced Social-Communication Skills
Video modeling and self-modeling lead to substantial increases in verbal requests and responses in children with autism. Social interactions and reciprocal play behaviors increase social initiation skills, play behaviors and spontaneous verbal requests in the school setting. An impressive finding was that these skills were maintained at the one- and three-month follow-up sessions with these children.
The success of video modeling and video self-modeling in promoting conversation skills for children and adolescents with autism has also been well documented. Video modeling is effective in teaching conversational skills to children and they transfer these same skills to other settings, such as school and at home.
Promoting Functional Skills
Research also supports the effectiveness of these interventions in promoting skill acquisition and learning activities of daily living among children and adolescents on the spectrum. They are a highly effective method for teaching functional skills to children, and they were able to maintain the skills one month later.
One study demonstrated how video models were used to promote the functional skills of shopping in the community. Individuals were videotaped making purchases in grocery stores. One individual is heard giving instructions, such as “find the bread,” “put it in the cart,” “bring it to the counter,” and “pay the cashier.” Breaking tasks into small steps and showing them on a video makes learning these tasks far more manageable.
One of Many Evidence-Based Interventions
Families should look for interventions that have been replicated over time which demonstrate effectiveness, reliability and validation. An important step forward is to apply evidence-based practice interventions more frequently in an effort to appropriately and effectively care for individuals with autism.
Video modeling is a viable strategy that is easily available to parents and professionals. However, it is just one of many evidence-based practices. Having a repertoire of different evidence-based strategies and interventions that focus on the child’s individual needs will lead to the most beneficial outcomes and positive results for children with ASD and their families.
Jill Krata, PhD, is Associate Chief of the Premier HealthCare Autism Research and Treatment Institute and Manager of Clinical Services at the YAI Autism Center. Premier HealthCare is a member of the YAI Network. For more information or for services, call 1-888-YAI-Autism or visit yai.org.
Bellini, S., & Akullian, J. (2007). A meta-analysis of video modeling and video self-modeling interventions for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Exceptional Children, 73(3), 264-287.
Horner, R.H., Carr, E.G., Halle, J., McGee, G., Odom, A., & Wolery, M. (2005). The use of single-subject research to identify evidence-based practice in special education. Exceptional Children, 71, 165-179.