Watching videos can help children with autism learn social skills
Two new studies at Indiana University demonstrate that videos depicting exemplary behaviors can be effective in helping children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders develop social skills and daily living skills.
Lead researcher Scott Bellini said these findings will help to identify video modeling as a worthwhile strategy for educators and child development professionals in a field lacking proven methods of treatment.
"The field of autism is in desperate need of effective programming," said Bellini, assistant director of IU's Indiana Resource Center for Autism and visiting assistant professor in the School of Education. "The number of children diagnosed with ASD has increased dramatically over the last ten years, but the range of available evidence-based services is very limited. This has created a strain and a sense of urgency for parents and professionals attempting to deliver educational and therapeutic services to children with ASD, and makes parents, in particular, vulnerable to costly and ineffectual programming."
Video modeling and video self-modeling (in which children are shown footage of themselves performing desired behaviors) are both effective in targeting social skills and functional skills, according to the studies. Additionally, the researchers found that improvements were maintained after the program was concluded and that skills were transferred to other settings not featured on the videos.
"One key reason for the success of video modeling is that it increases the child's attention to the modeled task," Bellini said. "When you play a video, most children immediately direct their attention to the television, or computer screen. And if you do not have attention, you will not have learning."
In one study, published this month in the journal Exceptional Children, Bellini and co-author Jennifer Akullian, a graduate student, conducted a meta-analysis using the results from 23 published studies of video modeling and/or video self-modeling (VSM) programs for children or adolescents with autism spectrum disorders.
In each of the programs, children viewed brief (30 seconds to 13.5 minutes) videos of adults, peers or themselves performing activities in one or more of three areas: behavioral functioning (such as problematic or off-task behaviors), social-communication skills (such as conversational skills, play skills, and reciprocal interactions) and functional skills (purchasing behaviors, hygiene and other self-help skills). They found that both types of video modeling were effective in increasing the performance of desired behaviors in all three areas.
"I chose to target video modeling and VSM because of the success I was having implementing these strategies in my clinic," Bellini said. "I knew that there were a number of studies that documented the efficacy of these procedures -- however, these procedures were rarely mentioned as evidence-based practices by 'best practices' committees."
Results from the meta-analysis indicate that both video modeling and VSM meet the Council for Exceptional Children's criteria for evidence-based practices. Improvements were most evident in the area of functional skills, followed by social-communication skills and behavioral functioning.
In the other study, published in this month's issue of the School Psychology Review, Bellini, Akullian, and co-author Andrea Hopf, also a graduate student, examined whether video self-modeling techniques could increase the social engagement of two preschool children with autism spectrum disorders. The children viewed footage of themselves interacting with classroom peers, with the footage edited to show exclusively efficacious behavior. All errors and teacher prompting were removed from the video during the editing process.
After viewing the two-minute video clips, children returned to the classroom to interact with peers. The researchers found the videos not only effective in increasing social interaction, but also easy to implement and minimally disruptive of teacher duties and class activities.
The VSM study aimed to investigate whether the method has practical applications in a real-world setting, Bellini said. The majority of the studies in the meta-analysis measured effects within a controlled laboratory or clinical environment, whereas Bellini's study utilized a preschool classroom and relied on teachers, rather than researchers, to show the videos to the children. The research team measured whether the intervention was completed as intended and whether the teachers viewed the intervention as appropriate within the classroom environment. The intervention was found to be effective, adequately implemented and feasible from the perspective of the teachers.
The other key element of the VSM study, Bellini said, was that it targeted the particular deficit area of social engagement, with results showing dramatic increases in social interaction with peers that were maintained after the intervention concluded.
"This study increased the social engagement of children with ASD after just four weeks of intervention, and results were maintained after the VSM intervention was withdrawn," Bellini said. "The meta-analysis found the same thing: VSM produces high maintenance effects. The reason is that VSM is a teaching strategy, not an accommodation. Children are learning new skills. When you remove the intervention, the skills remain."