Supercharge Your Exceptional Needs Child’s Screen Time with Video Modeling
Original article by Exceptional Needs Today on

Supercharge Your Exceptional Needs Child’s Screen Time with Video Modeling

By: Dr. Maria Gilmour, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA • Kelly Stafford, MA, BCBA, LBA • Inga Siler, MS, CCC-SLP • Lauren Kline, MS, BCBA, LBA

Visual learning—Video modeling is another term for “visual learning,” but with video. Can you imagine learning how to do the chicken dance through written instructions? Try this:

The chicken dance consists of the following moves four times each and repeating the sequence with the music: flap your bent elbows up and down, wiggle your hips back and forth while bending your knees, stand up straight and with bent elbows, bring your hands up to mimic a chomping motion with fingers and thumbs, ending with clapping hands.

Did you get all that? Whether learning to dance or learning a language, video modeling is effective for many learners, especially children with developmental disabilities and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). One advantage is that videos are simple to implement and repeat. Today, tablets and phones turn every setting into an impromptu classroom—in the car, in a waiting room, or before meals or bedtime.

Researchers looking for the most effective evidence-based practices point to video modeling as being effective across a variety of ages and in nearly every outcome area—social skills, activities of daily living, language/communication, play skills, vocational skills, and behavior.*

Here are four reasons why video modeling works with learners with exceptionalities:

  1. Individuals with exceptionalities often enjoy videos and screen time, giving video modeling a built-in advantage as a preferred mode of learning over other forms of instruction.
  2. Videos can edit out distractions. Real-life environments can be overstimulating compared to watching a video that can remove a visual or audio background.
  3. Individuals with exceptionalities often focus on irrelevant cues and miss the relevant ones. Videos can zero in on the relevant information.
  4. Videos are easily repeated, which allows an individual to watch the same teaching scenario multiple times.

What does video modeling look like?

There are a wide variety of ways to implement video modeling into your child’s therapy. The ease of smartphone cameras allows one child to video another—for example, tying a shoe. A parent or teacher can create a video to support a lesson— for example, counting objects. The child can even create their own videos, like filming insects and the journey they take in the backyard.

Professional video modeling curriculums add clinical rigor and pedagogical structure to the learning process. Gemiini Systems, a leading video modeling program, helps parents and therapists determine the correct curriculum, implement a program, track progress, and receive consultation and support.

Gemiini’s Discrete Video Modeling (DVM) cuts out the visual distractions, allowing the student to focus on one “learning byte” at a time. A student might struggle to extract “discrete” bits of meaning from the teacher’s stream of spoken language in a conventional classroom setting. DVM removes visual and auditory distractions and isolates each word or concept into understandable and digestible components of knowledge.

Video modeling supports collaboration

A complex condition like ASD requires a collaborative process from many stakeholders, all working toward a common purpose. Unlike a conventional medical diagnosis, ASD casts a wide net to assemble an integrated team that includes the patient, family network, clinicians, therapists, teachers, additional caretakers, and support services. Unlike conventional medicine, few families have a case manager who coordinates all these stakeholders, and no electronic medical record tracks each struggle and success.

Video modeling offers a common touchpoint for the team. Suppose a child is working on a language, behavioral, or social skill. In that case, the video provides a guidepost that the speech-language pathologist and occupational therapist can use to set specific targets. This might be as informal as the language pathologist saying, “Johnny, show me the video you’re working on with Ms. Sally [the occupational therapist].”

When the support team participates in the video lesson, the child has more opportunities to practice the targeted skills. More importantly, the videos support generalization. The learning isn’t limited to the session; it can carry over into other activities and settings.

When an individual is practicing a new skill in the same way with different providers, it helps to strengthen the usefulness of that skill and provides more opportunities for that skill to be readily available for the learner.

Building video modeling into your day

The beauty of video modeling is how easy it can fit into downtimes, like riding in the car or waiting for an appointment. The challenge with video modeling is that we want our kids—and ourselves—to spend less time on screens, not more. For this reason, think of video modeling as a constructive substitute for the time your child spends on games or entertainment. Using videos from a professional curriculum or creating your own can keep the videos fresh and engaging.

Get started with homemade video modeling

Personalized videos are often the most effective in teaching specific skills. For example, watching a video of a mom making a sandwich can be more engaging than watching a model or an actor performing the same task. Here are some ways to incorporate homemade videos into your routine:

  1. Teach children to say their names and the names of family members
    Film a short clip of your child and articulate their name while filming. Do the same for mom, dad, siblings, grandparents, friends, teachers, or therapists.
  2. Talk about objects in your child’s environment
    Some children are excited to talk about their personal belongings: the bed they sleep in, the shoes they wear, or the pet they love. What does your child spend the most time engaging with? Whether you create your own videos or if you use Gemiini, you can pair your homemade videos with language clips of the same word.
  3. Go on a word hunt
    Send your child into the house, backyard, or neighborhood to film words they know—for example, bugs, plants, cars, trucks, or toys while speaking the names.
  4. Prepare for new activities
    When new experiences are impending, personal clips can help prepare for new activities and reduce anxiety. Before the first day of school, visit the child’s classroom and record where they will sit, the hook for their coat, the bathroom, playground, and cafeteria. Rehearse the videos in a comfortable environment to prepare them for their new activity or change in routine.
  5. Motivate speech by making the child the “star”
    Many kids like seeing themselves on the screen and connect more in videos where they appear. Adding clips of your child being silly or playing is a terrific way to increase engagement and motivate speech. Who doesn’t love a quick break from learning by seeing a short clip of themselves sticking out their tongue?!

Since our screens aren’t going away, let’s capitalize on the benefits of having video tools at our fingertips. Video modeling gives parents of kids with developmental disabilities a way to make that screen time “supercharged.” Laura Kasbar, Gemiini’s founder, discovered the impact of discrete video modeling while observing her kids. “When I saw all six of my children glued to the television, I couldn’t tell which were the autistic ones,” Laura explained. “That’s when I realized that discrete video modeling could engage the learning capacity of autistic children in a way that other forms of therapy could not. 

About The Authors:

Dr. Maria Gilmour, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst at the doctoral level and a Licensed Behavior Analyst working in Oregon and Washington. Dr. Gilmour has 21 years of experience working in the field of autism, behavior disorders, traumatic brain injury, and ABA. She became the Chief Clinical Officer of Gemiini Systems in 2015 and is the owner and Chief Executive Officer of Wynne Solutions Behavior Services.

Kelly Stafford, MA, BCBA, LBA is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst licensed in Oregon and Washington. She worked in a private special education school setting for six years before switching to a clinical setting in 2019. Kelly is a Lead Board Certified Behavior Analyst at Gemiini Systems and Wynne Solutions Behavior Services.

Inga Siler, MS, CCC-SLP, CPSP is a Speech-Language Pathologist with 16 years of experience in school and private practice settings. Inga used video modeling with students on her school caseload before joining Gemiini Systems, where Inga is the Speech-Language Pathologist Clinical Coordinator.

Lauren Kline, MS, BCBA, LBA is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst licensed in Arizona and Texas. She has experience in the clinical setting working with individuals with autism as well as applying Applied Behavior Analytic services to diverse health needs. Lauren is a Lead Board-Certified Behavior Analyst at Gemiini Systems.

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