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Autism Technology Fast Facts: Video Modeling using iPod Touch, iPad or other Tablets

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Tony Gentry, PhD OTR/L
Virginia Commonwealth University
Department of Occupational Therapy

Of all the assistive technologies used to support people with autism, the most thoroughly researched is video modeling. More than 60 studies have been published in the past 20 years, showing that many people with autism can learn to perform complex tasks and manage social behaviors when a videotaped representation of the activity is used for guidance. With the recent emergence of videocamera-equipped smartphones, ipod touches and computer tablets, opportunities to utilize video modeling strategies have grown. These devices typically offer simple one-touch video recording and playback, and some include editing software that allows for clip trimming, titles and soundtracks. For the first time, truly portable tools are available for creating, editing and using video as a behavioral aid.

Opportunities to utilize video modeling include (1) task-sequencing of complex everyday tasks (grooming, packing a backback, etc.); (2) wayfinding guidance; (3) videotaped social stories for managing difficult situations; (4) behavioral advice and guidance; and (5) general encouragement. Although many portable devices now have GPS mapping, many people with cognitive-behavioral challenges find transferring what they see on a map to what they see in the real world difficult. A video that shows exactly where the person is, which doors to use, which turns to make, etc., can be more successful as a wayfinding guide. Visit the ACE website for examples of each of these video strategies.

Apple has recently made available on their App Store a simplified version of their iMovie film production software, which allows cut-and-paste and other editing tasks to be performed directly on an iphone, ipod touch or ipad. Android devices will soon have a similar editing product. In many cases, however, if you follow the guidelines that follow, you will not have to edit the video.

Making Behavioral Guidance Videos

In building a personal library of video modeling supports on a person's handheld device, it is important to pay attention to basic production values.

  1. Brevity: Videos should be short and address just one behavior. Strive for one minute or less, when possible. It is easier for a user to tap on a new task video than it is to scroll through a longer video for the next cue.
  2. Close-ups: Remember that the device playing back the video may be palm-sized, so it is a good idea to use close-ups.
  3. Lighting: Make sure that good lighting is available.
  4. Steady hands: When possible, prop the video recording device on a table or at least try to hold it as steady as you can while recording; no one likes to watch a video that seems to have been shot on a boat in a pitching sea.
  5. Audio Prompts: Record verbal step-by-step task or directional cues while shooting the video, since adding in a soundtrack later can be time-consuming.
  6. Titling: Be sure to give the video an appropriate title, such as "make lunch", so the user can readily scroll to it on the device when needed.
  7. Partnering: It's usually a good idea to collaborate with the end user in making the video. See if he/she can act in the video or help with shooting or editing. This can improve user buy-in for independently accessing the video when needed.

Training and Follow-Along

In beginning to use a behavioral guidance video, a user may wish to:

  1. watch the video all the way through just before attempting a chosen activity,
  2. have the video onscreen for play-and-pause guidance during the activity, and
  3. watch the video again all the way through at completion of the activity in order to compare the video to her/his actual performance.

This strategy helps build competence and insight through repetition and practice. In many cases, users eventually wean themselves off of needing the video prompt at all. Many feel reassured, however, that they have a readily available guide on their device whenever it may be needed. This strategy has been shown successful with preschoolers, students and adults on job sites, and comparison studies have shown it to be more successful than other forms of picture prompting or behavioral rehearsal techniques.

A behavioral guidance video will only be successful if the user watches it and tries to follow the videotaped model. As noted, user participation in choosing what videos to make and in making the video can help with buy-in. Sometimes a reward system can help users get started in making use of the videos. When people see that using a behavioral guidance video reduces familial nagging, while increasing functional independence and control over behaviors, they often begin to use the videos spontaneously, and may then think of new videos to help them achieve more self-efficacy.

Pre-made Social Story Videos

If you do not feel comfortable making your own videos or would like to explore professionally made versions on your portable device, you can do so. There are a number of video prompting apps available. Two good ones are: (1) Going Places, a free app that includes 6 community activity videos with captions (getting a haircut, for instance) and (2) Everyday Skills, a $40 app that includes a library of 40 behavioral videos for children and adults.

Information for this "Autism Technology Brief" is from Virginia Commonwealth University's Autism Center for Excellence (VCU-ACE), which is funded by the Virginia State Department of Education (Grant # 881-61172-H027A100107). The Contributor for this issue is Tony Gentry, PhD OTR/L Virginia Commonwealth University's Department of Occupational Therapy. Please contact Dr. Gentry at logentry@vcu.edu.

Virginia Commonwealth University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action institution providing access to education and employment without regard to age, race, color, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, veteran's status, political affiliation, or disability. If special accommodations or language translation are needed contact Voice (804) 828-1851 | TTY (804) 828-2494. For additional information on ACE, you may contact autismcenter@vcu.edu.

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