Maximizing the impact of therapy with video modeling


Jul 15


Have you ever had a thought like these:

  • “I wish I had more time in my schedule – this student would really benefit from intensive therapy.”
  • “He really needs daily follow-up.”
  • “Her [parent, aide, teacher] wants to help, but I can’t expect therapeutically sound implementation at home.”
  • “I wish I could be there when the conversational situation occurs to provide some instruction.”
  • “Pragmatic communication is so complex. If only there were a way to for him to see the various facets of an interaction.”


If so, you must be a speech-language pathologist! Time, personnel, and situational constraints affect our work every day. Communication happens throughout the day, but we can’t be there every moment for every student, indeed, not even for some students.


Video modeling is a strategy that can reduce the impact of these constraints on therapy. With internet access via smart phones, tablets and computer available to most students through much of their day and in various environments, it is possible to give them easy access to videos that can support their speech and language development, particularly in the area of pragmatic language.


Video modeling has been shown to be a highly effective tool for teaching language to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. With video, it is possible to isolate a situation or interaction, break it down into its component parts through freeze frames, and narrate it so that the child has more support in understanding the interaction and what others are thinking during the interaction. This article details a few examples of how video modeling may extend the amount of teaching and experience a child can have when acquiring a new skill.


Teaching low-frequency behaviors


Video modeling is an especially effective tool for teaching low-frequency behaviors, such as asking for help in a store. This seems like a simple concept, but it is one that is difficult to practice without causing confusion or embarrassment in a real-life setting. And it doesn’t happen every day. With a video model, you can create the scenario at the pace the child needs, and it can be repeated as often as needed for the child to develop the skill, while you provide intermittent opportunities for real-life practice to see how the skill is developing.


Here are the steps to develop a video model for the low-frequency, but important, skill of asking for help in the store:

  1. Identify key elements for the scenario:
    1. Location (store)
    2. People involved (child who is similar in age to your target student and adult)
    3. Problem – how to ask for help from a stranger
  2. Develop a storyboard for the events within the scenario:
    1. child is looking for a particular item but can’t find it
    2. child sees adult with a store name tag
    3. child greets adult
    4. child asks for help
    5. adult shows child where the wanted item is located
  3. Once you have the events listed, develop a script for the actors and the narrator. The narrator is a key element of the video model, as the narrator is the person who explains what others may be thinking, what the next step might be, and how to think about what to do. It is helpful if all the dialog is added to the video as subtitles, so the child can read and hear what to do.
    1. child is looking for a particular item but can’t find it
      1. Narrator: “Sometimes I’m looking for something at the store, but I can’t find it.”
      2. Child: “Where are the ____?”
      3. (action stops)
      4. Narrator: “When I can’t find what I want, I can ask a clerk. Clerks are people who work at the store.”
    2. child sees adult with a store name tag
      1. (Camera turns to adult, focusing on name tag, and freezes)
      2. Narrator: “Store clerks wear name tags with the name of the store on the tag. That’s how you know that the clerk is a safe person to talk to.” (action resumes)
    3. child greets adult
      1. Narrator: “To get the clerk’s attention, look at the clerk and say ‘Excuse me.’”
      2. Child (looking at clerk): “Excuse me.”
      3. Clerk: “May I help you?”
      4. (action freezes)
    4. child asks for help
      1. Narrator: “After the clerk says, ‘May I help you?’ I can tell the clerk what I am looking for.”
      2. (action resumes)
      3. Child: “I can’t find the ____”
      4. Clerk: “Follow me. I’ll show you where the ____ are.”
    5. adult shows child where the wanted item is located
      1. (camera follows child and clerk to the desired item, child picks up item)
      2. Narrator: “After the clerk shows me what I need, I say ‘Thank you.’ and smile. That makes the clerk feel happy.”
      3. Child: “Thank you!”
      4. Clerk (smiling): “You’re welcome”
      5. Narrator: “I asked the clerk for help, and the clerk showed me what I wanted. That makes me happy. The End!”


Once the video for a low-frequency behavior has been developed, the child can vicariously practice the skill multiple times during the day simply by watching the video. Periodically, it is important to “test” to see whether the child is actually learning the skill by creating a real-life situation where the child has to use the skill (in this case, taking the child to the store to find a particular item).


Teaching social understanding


Creating video models to help a child understand what others are thinking in particular situations is another effective use of video modeling. First, follow the 3 planning steps above. Before beginning to film, it is very important to carefully consider exactly what the social understanding gap is for the child so that it can be clearly demonstrated on the screen. Writing a social narrative and developing a script (again including narration) is critical to success. Keep it positive, short and focused!


Here’s a sample developed to teach a child how to enter a play setting:


  • Narrator (over photo of child): “Hi, my name is _____. I go to kindergarten.”
  • Narrator (over video “sweep” of kindergarten classroom): “There are lots of things to play with in my kindergarten classroom.”
  • Narrator (camera focuses on a particular item): “I love to play with _____. Other kids love to play with _____ too.” (other children pick up favored toy and begin to play).
  • Narrator (over children playing with favored item): “Sometimes there are lots of kids that want to play with _____. I want to play with _____ too!” (action freezes)
  • Narrator (over freeze frame): “When I see other kids playing with _____, sometimes I’m afraid I won’t get a chance! My teacher tells me that there are enough ____ for everyone.”
  • Narrator (over photo of child): “I can ask politely if I can play too. I can smile and say please and thank you.”
  • Child (a child of similar age enters play area smiling): “I would like to play ____ too, please.” (action freezes)
  • Narrator (over freeze frame): “It makes the other children feel good when I smile and ask. It makes the other children feel good when I say ‘’ The children help me find a ___ to play with.”
  • (other children invite the child to join them, and offer the child the favored toy.)
  • Child: “Thank you.”
  • Narrator: “All the children feel good when they can play with the toys they like. I feel good when I get to play with _____. The End.”



Teaching AAC


One of the difficulties in having a child acquire expressive language skills through use of AAC is that there are few if any models of this alternate language system for the child to emulate and learn from. AAC users have often spent considerable time as passive communicators, and need help to learn how to actively participate in a conversation. Video models can provide models for using a generating device (SGD) for new interactive skills, such as answering questions or responding to comments. For this type of model, one person with whom the child interacts (such as a peer, sibling, or teacher) is on camera, making a comment or asking a question. The child’s response is modeled with the camera “looking at the device from the device user’s point of view. While the camera “looks on,” a hand or switch scan navigates the device by sequencing icons, going to the correct page, etc. A script might look something like this:


  • Narrator (camera on friend): “When my friend asks me a question, I use my device to answer her.”
  • Friend: “Why weren’t you in school yesterday?” (or any of 1000 other questions)
  • Narrator (camera looking at device screen): “I need to tell her why I was not at school. I was at the dentist. I will find that message in my device.”
  • Device (while hand activates device as camera records): “I   …… was ……. at …… the … ” (then hand activates message window to play the full message).
  • Friend (on camera as full message is played again): “Oh, I hope you didn’t have any cavities.”
  • Device: “no…. my….. teeth… are…..strong!”
  • Narrator: “I can use my device to answer a question! Talking with my friends is fun!”



When provided with a video model, the child has the ability to view the video multiple times throughout the day to learn the skill. If you have permission, these videos can be privately posted on YouTube so they can be viewed anywhere that child has internet access., or they can be burned to a DVD to be watched at home or in the classroom. Short videos can also be sent to parents as phone messages. Each viewing of the video is the same as the last, allowing the child to absorb the details that are being taught, rather than being caught off guard by changing people or settings while the skill is still being learned. Thus, the therapist can effectively implement simple therapeutic goals in multiple settings and even on weekends! The time invested in producing the video, which can be considerable at first, is time well-spent, and may even save time over the long term.




Gray, Carol, The Social Stories Fast Course. Presentation for 2002 Autism Summer Institute, August 7, 2002, Columbus, Ohio.


Nikopoulos, Christos, and Keenan, Mickey, Video Modelling and Behavour Analysis: A Guide for Teaching Social Skills to Children with Autism. London; Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2006.

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