A photo of an iPhone with the caption, video modeling: an instructional approach for individuals with autism

Video Modeling: A Teaching Strategy for Children with Autism

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Children who have autism are challenged by difficulties in social interactions, speech and language impairments, atypical behaviors, and learning (Simpson & Zionts, 2000). Autism is often described as a spectrum disorder (ASD) as the severity of symptoms, age of onset, and associations with other disorders vary with each child (Lord & McGee, 2001). Regardless of skill level, all children with autism have impaired social and communication development (Quill, 2002).

Social and Communication skills are fundamental for understanding what to do and expect in the social world. Parents, educators and professionals are concerned with teaching children who have ASD social and communication skills due to the impact of communication skills on a child’s ability to function in society. Visual techniques have been helpful for children who have ASD as children with ASD have difficulty processing auditory input (Hodgdon, 1995). Specifically, activity schedules have been used to promote independent functioning (Bryan & Gast, 2000; MacDuff, Krantz, & McClannahan, 1993) and scripted cues including “look” and “watch me” (texts embedded within an activity schedule) increased scripted communication, which was maintained when the cues were faded and was generalized to other activities (Krantz & McClannahan, 1998).  

Visual supports such as activity schedules, pictures, and videos are frequently used to clarify information in order to help children with ASD understand social expectations (Quill, 2002). Video modeling is a simulated video recording of a target behavioral objective. The video simulates the behavior as well as observational learning. The child can repeatedly review the target behavioral sequence in exactly the same way. Video modeling is an empirically based strategy that can be used to help children with ASD increase social skills (Apple, Billingsley, & Schwartz, 2005) and communication skills (Charlop & Milstein, 1989).  

Why Video Modeling?

Children who have ASD have a core communication deficit in the area of joint attention. Joint attention includes four components:

  1. shifting attention between people and objects
  2. attending to the emotions of other people
  3. attending to and following the direction of another person’s eye gaze
  4. the ability to share an experience by attending to it as well as drawing another person’s attention to the same experience, which may include objects or events (Lord & McGee, 2001, p. 48).

For example, a typical two-year-old is able to point to a nearby dog and shift his gaze between the dog and his mother to share the experience. This is joint attention. In contrast, a child who has autism may see the dog, but may be unable to point to the dog to draw his mother’s attention to it and may be unable to shift his eye gaze between the dog and his mother to share the experience.

Deficits in joint attention impinge on the capacity of children with ASD to increase social and communication skills through observational learning. Observational learning, learning gained through the observation of others doing similar behaviors, is one of the greatest influences on skill acquisition (Dowrick & Jesdale, 1991). For children with ASD, observational learning can be tapped into through video modeling; an instructional medium that has the capability to secure the attention of the viewer and to be systematically controlled (Dowrick, 1991). In addition, video modeling has the potential to extinguish a child’s dependence on a facilitator’s prompts in order to have appropriate behavior (Sturmey, 2003). For example, many children with autism will only respond to greetings when they are prompted by a parent, teacher, or instructional assistant. The child’s response, such as “Hi,” is dependent on a prompt, such as, “Bobby, say hi,” rather than the natural prompt of someone greeting him.

Video modeling has the potential for gaining the attention of a child with ASD. Most children like to watch videos and children who have ASD are no exception. Many children with ASD will “movie talk” or repeat movie lines over and over. “Movie talk” is a form of delayed echolalia. Echolalia, or imitation of others’ speech, is common in children with ASD who do learn to talk (Prizant, Schuler, Wetherby, & Rydell, 1997). Some children with ASD will take meaning from movie lines and apply them to other situations in delayed echolalia. Prizant and Rydell (1993) have also reported functional use of echolalic language in children with ASD. Students with limited language or cognitive skills may need a video model of specific directions, such as, “stand up,” “sit down,” or “line up.” Other higher functioning students might use video modeling for more complex behaviors like riding the school bus or moving from one teacher’s classroom to another classroom.

When I have shown my students the instructional videos I have created, they have always been interested in watching them.  One of the greatest benefits of creating instructional videos is the control the creator has over the video model. As a teacher, it is possible to match specific IEP objectives to the creation of a video model. For example, if a student has an objective for following group directions, a video model can be created to highlight the natural cues preceding group directions to help the student attend to and follow group directions. The video model can be set up to recreate the natural environment in which group directions would occur. A cue card can be created to highlight a specific natural cue, such as the word, “everybody.” In the video, directions can be given following the cue. As the objective for the student is to follow group directions, it would be important to only include directions that the student can follow in a one-on-one or individual setting. The videos can be designed to emphasize specific cues and behaviors. Explicit instruction is needed to increase the potential for generalization (Apple, Billingsley, & Schwartz, 2005). In addition, other visual strategies can be used in conjunction with the video to provide cues during the generalization process. Other visual strategies can include an activity schedule or cue cards (these strategies are explained in detail in the book, “Do-Watch-Listen-Say“).

Applying Video Modeling to the Classroom

Creating instructional videos for children with ASD does not require extensive training or expensive equipment.  As with any instructional planning, following a logical sequence will increase efficiency and maximize the benefit to the students.  Based on my experience in creating video models for my students who have ASD, I have identified five steps to follow when producing instructional videos:  1. Set an objective for a target behavior; 2. Conduct a task analysis of the target behavior; 3. Create visual cues to support each step; 4. Recruit actors; 5. Record the video.

Step 1:  Set an objective for a target behavior

Behaviors which can be targeted for video modeling can include social skills like walking in line, classroom routines such as taking the attendance or lunch count, conversational skills like commenting during play, or any other skill that the child is expected to learn which can be visually observed and sequenced. Three basic criteria are needed when choosing a behavior: visibility, comprehension, and motivation. Behaviors must be visible. The behaviors should be specific, observable, and measurable. A target behavior such as “follow directions” may be too broad depending on the skill level of the student. Broad behaviors can be task analyzed and broken down into smaller visible segments that are meaningful to the student. A student must be able to comprehend the activity on the video. In the activity of taking the attendance to the office, walking from the classroom to the office and returning only makes sense if the child can recognize the setting. In addition, the student must have the ability to understand what is expected (i.e., what the particular sequence of behaviors mean such as I am to go from my classroom to the school office and return to my class without stopping along the way). Finally, the child must find some value in completing the action.

Step 2:  Conduct a Sequence analysis of the target behavior

One inherent value of video modeling is that the targeted behavior can be reviewed as a sequence in exactly the same way over and over again. Although important to understand the parts of the target task, the sequence of the task is equally critical. As some skills are complex and have many parts, sequencing the parts in a way that the student will be able to imitate them is important. The sequence of the targeted behavior must be analyzed because the student is likely to complete the sequence in the identical manner in which the subcomponents of the skill was presented. More complex skills that have numerous subcomponents may need to be formatted as a forward chain of several video clips to teach the target skill. During sequence analysis, the teacher should consider:

  1. The complexity of the target behavior: Is it too broad for the student? Does the behavior need to be split into more specific behaviors?
  2. Which steps the child has already mastered?
  3. Does the student need other visual supports, such as activity schedules or cue cards due to auditory processing impairments?
  4. Will the child be able to imitate the target behavior if the video shows all of the steps in sequence? Or should the video use a chaining approach so the child can learn one step of the target behavior at a time?

When initially considering the skills needed to take the attendance to the office, I may only think of four steps: 1. holding the attendance; 2. walking to the office; 3. putting the attendance folder on the attendance clerk’s desk; and 4. walking back to the classroom. After further analysis of the complexity of the task, I realize that many more steps exist within the sequence. The path to the office is not direct. The student must make a right turn out of the classroom into the hallway. The student must go to the end of the hallway, open the door, and turn left into the adjoining hallway. After passing the library, the student must continue down the hall and stop at the attendance clerk’s desk. After placing the attendance folder on her desk, he must turn around and complete the previous steps in reverse back to the classroom. For some students, the initial four steps for taking the attendance are sufficient as the additional steps of walking in the hallway and attending to the correct turns have been mastered. For other students, the initial four steps may be too complex. The sequence of skills may need to be broken down into more specific steps such as opening the door, turning right into the hallway, etc.

Additionally, each step in the sequence must be evaluated.  Each step must be identified as mastered or not mastered. If a child is unable to open the door independently, the steps in taking the attendance may need to be modified to include either an assistant automatically opening the door for the child or the child requesting help with the door. If the child has mastered a particular step such as holding the attendance folder while walking, this step will not need as much focus in the simulated model.

Some students may be able to remember and imitate the entire sequence of taking the attendance to the office. Other students may need a visual cue to help them. An activity schedule can be created to help the students remember the steps of the activity in sequence (these strategies are explained in detail in the book, “Do-Watch-Listen-Say“). The number of picture cues in the activity schedule may vary with the needs of each student.  As previously described, some students may only need four steps cued in taking the attendance to the office whereas other students may need every step, including each turn in the hallway, cued.  Use of the activity schedule can be incorporated into the video model.

Lastly, the format of the video, whole skill or chained skill, must be considered based on the needs of each individual student.  Students who have mastered the steps of opening the door, walking in the hall, and holding the attendance folder are likely to be able to imitate these steps in the modeled sequence without additional supports. Students who have not mastered particular subcomponents within the target skill may benefit more from a chaining approach. The student may need to imitate a smaller sequence of steps prior to learning the entire chain of steps. For example, the child who is unable to independently open a door may first need to view a model of asking for help with the door. Once this skill has been mastered, the student can view a video model of additional steps in the sequence.

Step 3:  Create visual cues to support each step

Other visual supports such as cue cards and activity schedules may or may not be necessary depending on the individual child (level of auditory processing and/or memory) and the complexity of the target behavior. If the teacher determines that other visual supports are necessary, then these supports should be created prior to filming. I have used activity schedules for washing hands and taking the attendance. These activity schedules have a picture prompt for each step in the target behavior. The activity schedules were meaningless to my students until I modeled what each picture in the sequence meant through a video. Once my students watched the video, they knew how to use the activity schedule.

Step 4:  Recruit the Actors

Actors can be anyone who can accurately model the target behavior. I typically use myself or my instructional assistants as actors. Typical children, who can accurately model the behavior, can also be used as actors after obtaining parent permission.  Actors should be briefed on the target behavior and how to emphasize specific points. A written script can be created; however, I have found that to be unnecessary. I have been able to work out glitches by having the actors go through an unrecorded trial run.  During the unrecorded run, I am able to clarify how to model the target behavior.

Step 5: Record the Video

The video can be recorded using a camcorder, digital camera, or other recording device. After the actors have been prepared, recording the video will only takes a few minutes.

Final Thoughts 

I have found video modeling to be an effective tool in teaching my students specific behaviors. Video models can be created in a short period of time. I have created videos to target an individual student’s behaviors as well as several students’ behaviors. I created a video model for several students’ behaviors for classroom routines such as taking the attendance. For the video model to be effective, the student must have imitation skills and be able to attend to the video.

Further reading:

I originally wrote this post in 2006. Since that time, video modeling has become more well known and there are several books on the subject. The following are a few I found on Amazon.




Apple, A. L., Billingsley, F., & Schwartz, I. S.  (2005).  Effects of video modeling alone and with self-management on compliment-giving behaviors of children with high-functioning ASD.  Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 7, 33-46.

Bandura, A.  (1969).  Principles of Behavior Modification.  New York: Hold, Rinehart, and Winston.

Bandura, A.  (1977).  Social Learning Theory.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bryan, L. C., & Gast, D. L.  (2000).  Teaching on-task and on-schedule behaviors to high-functioning children with autism via picture activity schedules.  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 553-567.

Charlop, M. H., & Milstein, J. P. (1989).  Teaching autistic children conversational speech using video modeling.  Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, 22, 275-285.

Charlop-Christy, M. H., & Daneshvar, S.  (2003).  Using video modeling to teach perspective taking to children with autism.  Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 5, 12-21.

Charlop-Christy, M. H., Le, L., & Freeman, K. A.  (2000).  A comparison of video modeling with in vivo modeling for teaching children with autism.  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 537-552.

D’Ateno, P., Manigiapanello, K., & Taylor, B. A.  (2003).  Using video modeling to teach complex play sequences to a preschooler with autism.  Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 5, 5-11.

Dowrick, P. W. (1991).  Practical Guide to Using Video in the Behavioral Sciences.  New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Dorwrick, P. W. and Jesdale, D. C.  (1991).  “Modeling” pp 64-76 from Practical Guide to Using Video in the Behavioral Sciences.  New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Haring, T. G., Kennedy, C. H., Adams, M. J., & Pitts-Conway, V. (1987).  Teaching generalization of purchasing skills across community settings to autistic youth using videotape modeling.  Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 20, 89-96.

Hodgdon, L. A.  (1995).  Visual Strategies for Improving Communication.  Troy, MI: Quirck Roberts.

Kazdin, A. D. (1974).  The effect of model identity and fear-relevant similarity on covert modeling.  Behavior Therapy, 5, 624-635.

Kimball, J. W., Kinney, E. M., Taylor, B. A., & Stromer, R.  (2004).  Video enhanced activity schedules for children with autism: A promising package for teaching social skills.  Education and Treatment of Children, 27(3), 280-298.

Koegel, R. L. & Koegel, L. K.  (1995).  Teaching Children with Autism: Strategies for Initiating Positive Interactions and Improving Learning Opportunities.  Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E.  (1998).  Social interaction skills for children with autism: A script-fading procedure for beginning readers.  Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 31(2), 191-202.

Lord, C., & McGee, J. P. (Eds.).  (2001).  Educating Children With Autism.  Washington, DC:  National Academy Press.

MacDuff, G. S., Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E.  (1993).  Teaching Children with autism to use photographic activity schedules: Maintenance and generalization of complex response chains.  Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26(1), 89-97.

Masters, J. C., Burish, T. G., Hollon, S. D., & Rimm, D. C.  (1987).  Behavior Therapy: Techniques and Empirical Findings (3rd ed.).  Orlando, Florida: Hardcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Minshew, N., Goldstein, G., Muenz, L., & Payton, J.  (1992).  Neuropsychological functioning of nonmentally retarded autistic individuals.  Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 14, 749-761.

Prizant B. M., & Rydell, P. J.  (1993).  “Assessment and intervention considerations for unconventional verbal behavior.  In Communicative Alternatives to Challenging Behavior: Integration Functional Assessment and Intervention Strategies, J. Reichle and D. Waker, eds.  Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Prizant, B. M., Schuler, A. L., Wetherby, A. M., & Rydell, P.  (1997).  “Enhancing language and communication: Language approaches.  Pp. 572-605 in Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders (2nd edition), D. Cohen and F. R. Volkmar, eds.  New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Quill, K. (2002).  Do-Watch-Listen-Say:  Social and Communication Intervention for Children with Autism.  Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Sherer, M., Pierce, K. L., Paredes, S., Kisacky, K. L., Ingersoll, B., & Schreibman, L.  (2001).  Enhancing conversation skills in children with autism via video technology.  Behavior Modification, 25, 140-158.

Simpson, R.L., & Zionts, P. (2000). Autism: Information and Resources for Professionals and Parents (2nd ed.).  Austin, TX: ProEd, Inc.

Sturmey, P.  (2003).  Video technology and persons with Autism and other developmental disabilities: An emerging technology for PBS.  Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions, 5, 3-4.

Taylor, B. A., Levin, L., & Jasper, S.  (1999).  Increasing play-related statements in children with autism toward their siblings: Effects of video modeling.  Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 11, 253-264.

Wert, B. Y., & Neisworth, J. T.  (2003).  Effects of video self-modeling on spontaneous requesting in children with autism.  Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 5, 30-34.

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