Video Based Instruction for Learners with Autism!
Kevin M. Ayres1, Jason Travers2, Sally B. Shepley3, & Rachel Cagliani1!
1The University of Georgia!
2The University of Kansas!
3The University of Kentucky
This is a PRE-publication copy.
citation for publication copy:
Video Based Instruction!
Video based instruction (VBI) emerged in the literature in 1987 when Harring, Kennedy,
Adams, and Pitts-Conway evaluated video as a component of intervention for teaching shopping
skills to adults with developmental disabilities. In this study, the authors reported the positive
effects of VBI to promote generalization. By using video to present models, these researchers
offered practitioners an alternative to live action models and provided a new means to model
behaviors that are not otherwise easily modeled in-vivo (or at least not modeled repeatedly). In
the three decades since that publication, there have been more than forty studies evaluating
aspects of VBI as well as a half dozen narrative literature reviews or meta-analyses. Moving
from videotapes (Alcantara, 1994) and videodiscs (Wissick, Lloyd, & Kinzie, 1992) to DVDs
and portable DVD players (Mechling, Gast, & Fields, 2008), smartboards (Yakubova & Taber-
Doughty, 2013) and mobile devices (Cihak, Fahrenkrog, Ayres, & Smith, 2010), as well as
“wearables” and augmented reality (Cihak, Moore, Wright, McMahon, Gibbons, & Smith 2016)
access to video has evolved.!
The growth of research on VBI likely reflects the increasing ubiquity of mobile
technology and corresponding high degree of social validity. Learning by imitating video is not
peculiar to autism or special education. The practice has existed for a long time, but has not often
been referred to as VBI; entire television networks have succeeded on the premise that VBI can
be enjoyable and help people learn new skills (e.g., Food Network). The high degree of social
validity, ease of use, and, most importantly, efficacy, provide the foundation and rationale for
using video as an instructional tool. Examining online resources (e.g., YouTube.com©) to locate
video models to solve household problems (e.g., repairing a doorbell) is commonplace. The
focus of this chapter, however, is on the application of VBI to support learning by individuals
diagnosed with autism. !
This chapter provides background on research with practical implications for teachers
and therapists who wish to use VBI. The discussion is organized first around the rationale and
practical considerations for using VBI broadly. This includes the logic for using video as a
component of instruction along with discussion about variables known to impact or theorized to
impact VBI. Following this, the chapter’s focus shifts to provide a concrete background on the
research, application, and considerations for using video to teach social skills and functional life
skills. Within this context, the goal is for the reader to increase their understanding of why and
when to use video along with an improved knowledge of how to implement VBI with learners
diagnosed with autism.!
When a low-tech solution is possible, why choose high tech? The best reasons to use
high-tech solutions is to help achieve better outcomes or provide a more efficient or expedient
result. Much of the rationale for using VBI revolves around logistical factors more than evidence
of increased efficiency. Some of the seminal work in this area continues to help provide sound
reasoning for incorporating video into instruction.!
Haring and colleagues (1987) argued that one of the barriers to programming for
generalization by training multiple exemplars (Stokes & Baer, 1977) involves the inefficiency of
this procedure for some skills. In particular, the authors considered the range of community-
based settings one might need to sample to achieve generalized responding. Recognizing that
response generalization is a critical goal for instructional programming for individuals diagnosed
with autism, the authors proffered that using some form of simulation in the form of actors
portraying the skills in several natural environments might provide the level of multiple
exemplar training needed for generalized responding. !
If one were to conduct an ecological inventory focused on identifying the different ways
to dry one’s hands in the bathrooms of stores, restaurants, and other community gathering places,
they would find an array of systems from air dryers to different towel dispensers. Sampling each
of these on training trips would be ideal but may not be logistically feasible. Incorporating video
modeling into training may allow learners to sample a wider range of exemplars than they could
on a single training trip and still result in generalization (e.g. Haring et al., 1987).!
Beyond providing quality examples of a variety of stimuli, VBI can also narrow or focus
the instructional universe in a way that cannot be done in the natural environment. Sherer et al.
(2001) suggested that instructional arrangements that include video may enhance attention on
critical stimuli because video may make them more salient. Moreover, instructors have greater
control over the presentation of stimuli in a video because they do not have to worry about the
natural variations that may occur spontaneously in the natural environment. This isolation and
control also allows the instructor certainty over the quality of the model. With a high quality
model, an instructor can recycle the material and ensure that assistants or parents teaching the
same skill use the same model. This may provide a level of continuity for instruction and
improve acquisition in contrast to seeing two or three different models of a chained task and
inconsistent adherence to a task analysis.!
Considerations For Producing in Videos for Instruction!
Learning from VBI requires, at a minimum, two prerequisite skills. First, the learner must
have the visual acuity to see what is depicted on the screen. Some researchers have documented
that for some learners, larger screens (and therefore larger images) are more efficient (Mechling
& Ayres, 2012). Second, the learner must also demonstrate generalized imitation. If the learner
has not already demonstrated generalized imitation, then VBI will not likely produce desired
effects for the individual. McCoy and Hermansen (2007) synthesized 34 studies that evaluated
the use of video modeling for individuals diagnosed with autism. Their review specifically
looked at the different types of models that are often used in video modeling including adult
models, peer models, point-of-view models, self models, and a mix of models. Included studies
had at least one participant diagnosed with autism aged 2 to 36 years. The review highlighted
that individuals without imitation and attending skills may experience difficulty with video
modeling and that further research should be conducted with individuals without these potential
prerequisite skills. To date, the authors of this chapter are unaware of any empirical studies
demonstrating the efficacy of teaching imitation via video. !
If the learner can imitate, then several other factors that should be considered prior to
producing video(s). These are summarized in Figure 1. A primary consideration is whether to
produce a video or search for an existing video to use as the model. Some publishers have
released high quality video models intended for teaching functional life skills to individuals
diagnosed with developmental disabilities. These provide teachers and therapists with simple,
ready made curricular materials that can be included in instruction. Such videos may also be
more appealing due to convenience, but may also be less effective. For example, Mechling,
Ayres, Foster, and Bryant (2013) compared the efficacy of custom made videos to commercially
produced videos to teach chained tasks to high school students diagnosed with autism. The
researchers reported that while all students responded to both video formats, the use of
customized videos reliably led to better improvements in performance. Therefore,
interventionists may consider commercially made (or generic videos from sources like
Youtube.com©), but recognize that they may achieve greater gains with videos customized to
their context. !
An additional consideration relates to the viewer’s perspective, irrespective of whether
creating custom videos or using commercially produced or borrowed content. For example, some
researchers have evaluated the efficacy of VBI shot from the perspective of the person doing the
action. This is frequently referred to as point-of-view (POV) video instruction (see Mason,
Davis, Boles, & Goodwyn, 2013 for a meta-analysis of POV video modeling). In contrast, some
researchers have used video shot from the perspective of a bystander. Ayres and Langone (2007)
reported results of a study comparing instruction of gross motor tasks with POV and what the
researchers referred to as third person video modeling. Very few differences were observed in
terms of rate of acquisition, errors, or time in instruction, which led the researchers to conclude
that either format may be a viable choice for gross motor tasks. They cautioned, however, that
POV may not provide sufficient information for social skills (e.g., facial expressions that should
Another variation in third person video modeling includes using the learner as their own
model. Referred to as video self-modeling (VSM), the interventionist creates a video of the
person performing the task and edits out all prompts and disfluencies to produce an example for
use in instruction. The rationale for using VSM rests partially on Bandura’s social learning
theory(Bandura, 1977) that suggested individuals were more likely to imitate models that were
similar to themselves. Mason, Davis, Ayres, Davis, and Mason (2016) reported the results of a
meta-analysis evaluating the efficacy of VSM for teaching students diagnosed with autism. They
noted particularly strong effects when teaching social and communication skills. One benefit of
producing VSM examples is that it can be done in the context of initial instruction itself as the
teacher or therapist probes responding and prompts through the sequence of a skill. A meta-
analysis by Bellini and Akullian (2007) highlighted that robust effects occurred across
intervention, maintenance, and generalization when video modeling was used to teach functional
skills. Taken together, these meta-analyses provide sufficient evidence for using VSM in a range
Amongst the final set of choices discussed here regarding video production, is whether to
include narration to the video. Smith, Ayres, Mechling, and Smith (2013) noted that much of the
research regarding VBI and video modeling had overlooked that participants may have been
responding to narration included in the video examples rather than imitating the video. They
evaluated the additive effect of narration to video on the acquisition of multi-step chained tasks
by middle school aged students diagnosed with autism. They reported that video modeling with
narration was more efficient for two of the participants than the video that did not include
narration. Smith et al. found that narration was not required for the other two participants to
acquire the skills, but the participants expressed a preference for videos that included narration.
From a practical standpoint this would indicate that including narration of the steps in a multi-
step video is likely beneficial and at least provides consistent models of the vocabulary
associated with certain tasks. !
Procedural Considerations for Delivering Video Based Interventions!
Although the factors discussed next do not capture all possible variables one might
consider when producing video for instruction, a summary of key features will be helpful to
various professionals when preparing and producing video(s) for instruction. After the video for
instructional use has been created, professionals should decide how to incorporate the video into
instruction. Integration of video into instruction generally follows one of two broad categories,
video modeling and video prompting, but sometimes may include procedures from both
categories. Professionals also will need to decide who will deliver the intervention (i.e., follow
the prescribed set of procedures). The majority of research on video modeling and VBI has used
teachers or therapists as intervention agents, but parents and/or caregivers also may be
appropriate depending on the targeted skill. An additional option is to teach the learner to control
delivery of instruction from the instructional video. Following a brief description of the
differences between video modeling and video prompting we will address the issue of who leads
Video modeling. Video modeling describes the process of displaying a video in its
entirety prior to asking a learner to imitate what they saw. This application of VBI represents the
simplest form from a teaching standpoint: prepare video, press play, ask the learner to imitate.
Researchers have documented the efficacy of video modeling across a wide range of skills, ages,
and ability levels. They have further explored multiple means of presenting models including
continuous video modeling (Mechling, Ayres, Purrazella & Purrazella, 2014) and chunking
(Sigafoos et al., 2007). In comparisons of video modeling to video prompting, video prompting
is generally reported to be more effective and efficient (Cannella-Malone et al., 2006); however,
some researchers have reported results showing that video modeling is superior (Taber-Doughty
et al., 2011). In general, video modeling may have some advantages when introducing a skill for
the first time because the learner has an opportunity to see the entire sequence of steps
Video prompting. Video prompting may have specific benefits for learners who have
difficulty attending to longer videos because, during video prompting, each discrete step of the
video is shown as needed. Typically, the therapist incorporates the video into a systematic
prompt fading intervention like least-to-most prompting (e.g., Smith, Ayres, Mechling,
Alexander, Mataras, & Shepley, 2013) or constant time delay (e.g., Graves, Collins, Schuster, &
Kleinert, 2005). The learner only sees the portion of the video that is relevant to the behavior that
is needed at that point in time. For example, if a learner has independently worked through 5
steps of a 12-step task analysis and pauses on the sixth step, the therapist would then show only
the few seconds of video relevant to that step. This can pose some logistical challenges if the
teacher has, for example, filmed a 90 s video and the student requires a prompt at the sixth step
which falls at the 45th second of the video. The teacher has to fast forward the video to the
appropriate place. Alternatively, if the teacher films each step separately or cuts the video into
steps, then he or she may be able to navigate directly to the segment the students needs.!
The instructor. While a teacher or therapist can deliver instruction with video modeling
or video prompting, over the past decade more work has emerged focused on teaching learners to
deliver their own instruction (see Smith, Shepley, Alexander, & Ayres, 2015 for a review of this
literature). As individuals diagnosed with autism access new environments (e.g., vocational
settings), the demands and expectant behaviors will change from the way they were initially
taught. Therefore, instead of anticipating each and every variation of a behavior and trying to
teach as many discrete tasks as possible at school, instructors should focus their curriculum on
self-instructional behaviors so learners can begin to teach themselves across environments. Once
a student learns to self-instruct, they have acquired a pivotal skill allowing them greater
independence (Ayres, Shepley, Douglas, Shepley, & Lane, 2015). Explicit instruction of self-
instruction can lead to generalized use of the self-instructional process and independent initiation
of self-instruction when encountering novel tasks (Smith et al.,, 2016). Learners also have the
autonomy to pursue learning things that are of high interest to them.!
Although multiple websites (e.g., YouTube.com©) provide ample collections of video
that many people use to self-instruct, some students diagnosed with autism require explicit
instruction in locating and using video from online resources or published curricula. In cases
where the internet or other resources do not meet the learner's needs, researchers have identified
ways to help students create their own instructional supports for the purposes of self-instruction
by filming others performing the task (Shepley, Smith, Ayres, & Alexander, in press). One
advantage for learners in creating their own self-instructional materials is that they no longer
have to rely on others to provide the raw material. For example, an adult learning a new job from
a fellow employee or job coach can use a mobile device to video any tasks he or she may need to
Regardless of who delivers instruction, understanding the methods and means to using
video in a variety of contexts will assist practitioners with designing better instruction for their
students. The remainder of this chapter focuses on VBI in specific contexts: first, social skills
and second, more life skills. The reasons for using video in the different contexts varies and
some of the challenges within those settings also vary. Exploring the research in these domains
and seeing how to translate the research to practice will permit therapists to provide efficient and
evidence based instruction that meets the needs of their students.!
Video Based Instruction for Social Skills !
Social skills are difficult to teach because seemingly minute changes in the environment
can significantly change what responses are socially appropriate or inappropriate. Something as
benign as riding an elevator can be exceptionally complicated, as the social conventions vary
considerably according to the situation. When standing alone in an elevator, it may be perfectly
okay to blow one’s nose. However, the presence of another person means blowing your nose is
socially inappropriate. Similarly, where one stands in the elevator depends heavily on the
number of people in the elevator at that time. In most cultures, it is socially inappropriate to
stand immediately next to the only other person in the elevator. When only two unfamiliar
people are in the elevator, they stand as far apart as possible because this is considered socially
appropriate. However, as more people enter and exit the elevator, the socially appropriate
proximity of fellow riders changes. Other unwritten rules of elevator etiquette also vary and
include the direction riders should face, where they should look, whether conversations are
appropriate and what topics can be discussed, asking people what floor they need versus moving
to allow them access to the buttons, and etcetera. Importantly, most people have acquired
elevator etiquette and a vast array of social skills via a rich history of social experiences. Indeed,
few people have received explicit instruction for elevator etiquette, asking to play a game with
peers, approaching a person to ask for a date, or countless other social skills for various and
nuanced social situations.!
Whether initiating conversations (Nikopoulos & Keenan, 2004), recognizing and
responding to socially inappropriate behavior of others (Spivey & Mechling, 2016),
complimenting others (Macpherson, Charlop, & Miltenberger, 2015), or engaging in play
activities (MacDonald, Clark, Garrigan, & Vangala, 2005), VBI has been found to be an
effective method for supporting social skills acquisition and performance for learners diagnosed
with autism and other developmental disabilities. VBI is ideal for teaching social skills because it
allows for the incorporation of various elements that highlight key social cues. !
Video Based Instruction for Social Skills Acquisition and Performance!
Communication is inherently a social behavior and given that children diagnosed with
autism often have poorly developed social and communication skills, communication is often a
priority of intervention teams. VBI has been an effective social communication support for
learners diagnosed with autism, and much of the research in this area has focused on preschool
and elementary school children diagnosed with autism. Manding (e.g., requesting) is perhaps the
most fundamental communication skill (Sundberg & Partington, 1998). Any request is a mand
regardless of whether the individuals makes it via speech, voice output devices, or other
symbolic means (e.g., writing, gesture, picture exchange) that is reinforced by consequences
specific to the request (Skinner, 1957). For example, a child might see a preferred item and
vocalize while looking and reaching toward the item. A caregiver or teacher might recognize this
requesting behavior and respond by retrieving and delivering the item to the child. Access to the
item contingent on vocalizing and gesturing (or crying, tantruming, engaging in self injury, etc.)
will likely reinforce requesting, making similar responses more likely to occur in the future. !
VBI can support the acquisition and generalized use of manding. Plavnick and Ferreri
(2011) used a functional analysis to confirm participants were engaging in problem behavior to
gain access to preferred items or activities (i.e., requesting), then enlisted video models for
appropriate requests. These researchers found acquisition, mastery, and generalization of
requesting was better when VBI was clearly linked to functional communication when compared
to VBI for communication skills that were unrelated to behavior function. Cihak, Smith, Cornett,
and Coleman (2012) found VBI promoted more rapid acquisition and consistent requesting
among four preschool children diagnosed with developmental delays, including autism, when
combined with picture exchange communication system (PECS; Bondy & Frost, 2002)
compared to PECS alone. Essentially, Cihak et al. used video modeling as a means of priming
requests prior to introducing contrived opportunities to request (consistent with the first phase of
the PECS protocol). These and similarly focused studies (e.g., Jones, Lerman, & Lechego, 2014;
Plavnick & Vitale, 2016; Wilson, 2013) indicate VBI can be an effective means for teaching
young children diagnosed with autism to make requests.!
In a somewhat novel study, MacManus, MacDonald, and Ahearn (2015) combined VBI
with a series of scripted pretend play activities for three preschool children diagnosed with
autism. The researchers used 3 min videos of play sets replete with related action figures based
on child interests (e.g., superheroes and villains), and scripted series of actions and phrases to be
followed by the learner. The researchers measured adherence to the scripts as well as impromptu
generalizations when specific elements were missing (e.g., using a different hero or villain when
the scripted one was unavailable; using novel statements during play). The participants increased
engagement in play, used more vocalizations, and demonstrated stimulus and response
generalization, thereby illustrating the efficacy of video based instruction for teaching complex
play skills often observed in peers without social and play deficits. !
Children diagnosed with autism are often described as having significant difficulty
transitioning between activities (Lequia, Wilkerson, Kim, & Lyons, 2015). This difficulty often
manifests as noncompliance that varies in topography and severity (e.g., aggression to others or
self, elopement, tantrums). However convenient it may be to limit transitions and restrict access
to unfamiliar activities, such accommodations may have the inadvertent effect of increasing
frequency and intensity of severe behavior occasioned by transitions. A common strategy is to
utilize personnel to assist with and reinforce transitions, but this resource-intensive tactic is not
always feasible. VBI may provide a practical and effective remedy for this common problem.
Indeed, researchers have used priming techniques in videos to explain and demonstrate students’
successful transition behavior and have found them to be an inexpensive, unobtrusive, and
reliable way to improve transitions.!
Schreibman, Whalen, and Stahmer (2000) used video models depicting appropriate
transitions in the homes and community that often accompanied problem behavior with three
young children diagnosed with autism. Parents implemented the intervention and, over time (i.e.,
12-40 sessions) decreased disruptive transitions to zero occurrences. Participants learned to
predict the upcoming transition(s) and the associated reinforcing consequences that typically
accompanied (e.g., ending the mall trip at the toy store). In a different study aimed at enhancing
transitions, Cihak, Fahrenkrog, Ayres, and Smith (2010) used video models of students
diagnosed with autism engaging in 10 transitions associated with the daily activity schedule.
Rather than relying on a visual schedule, the researchers provided students with an iPod® with
the transition videos and prompted them to view the transition video associated with the next
destination/activity. They incorporated additional prompts contingent on transition errors until
the participant diagnosed with autism arrived at the correct destination. Within 8 to 14 sessions,
all four participants learned to transition to locations throughout the school, but withdrawal of
the intervention resulted in increased difficulty with transitions, suggesting that video models for
transitions may function as an important accommodation worthy of prolonged or permanent use. !
Play and Other Complex Social Skills
Engagement in play offers children opportunities to develop various social skills vital for
realizing long term social outcomes. For example, play in young children affords opportunities to
communicate and other foundational skills such as commenting, taking turns, cooperation,
problem solving, and developing friendships. As children mature, these and other skills become
increasingly important to all aspects of education, including extracurricular activities. However,
children diagnosed with autism often do not acquire or use these sorts of social skills without
explicit instruction. The features associated with VBI (outlined in previous sections) suggest it
can be used in various ways to support social skill development among learners diagnosed with
autism in the elementary school years, and several studies support this conclusion. For example,
an important play-based social skill relates to attempts to persistently solicit peers to join a
preferred activity (e.g., to play a game of tag). Grosberg and Charlop (2014) explained that
learners diagnosed with autism may quickly give up recruiting peers to play an outdoor game
after being rebuffed, but typical peers usually persist until they identify and are joined by
companions. Accordingly, these authors used VBI to teach four elementary school aged children
diagnosed with autism to engage in persistent social initiations of play with peers. Videos
showed a model soliciting a peer to play a game, with some videos showing the first and second
peers approached declining to join, followed by the model asking a third peer who agreed to
play. Results indicated the participants learned to persist in soliciting peers to join them in play
activities, and that the skill generalized to different peers and settings. !
Social conventions evolve over time and are highly contextual. Thus, appropriate social
skills in preschool and elementary school may eventually be deemed inappropriate for
adolescents and adults. Relationship dynamics change during adolescence and throughout
adulthood, and obtaining desired outcomes (e.g., employment, friendships, marriage) often is
dependent on acquiring knowledge and skills about nuanced social situations with acquaintances,
close friends, extended and immediate family members, and intimate partners. The nuances of
social situations is complicated by the need for complex social skills, such as chained behaviors,
that may not always contact reinforcing contingencies (Plavnick, Sam, Hume, & Odom, 2013).
Though few studies are available that explicitly examined VBI as an intervention to teach social
skills to adolescents and young adults diagnosed with autism, it is worth distinguishing older
from younger learners because appropriate social skills evolve over time. !
Plavnick et al. (2013) used VBI to promote complex social skills among four adolescent
participants diagnosed with autism. Specifically, these researchers developed a small library of
15 videos (i.e., three different clips for each of the five targeted social skills) and implemented
VBI to teach participants to (1) invite a peer to join in an activity, (2) ask peers if they could join
their activity, (3) ask about the interests of peers, (4) offer assistance to peer or adult, and (5)
maintain conversations. Results indicated rapid acquisition and maintenance of targeted social
skills for all four participants. These skills were also taught in a replication study (i.e., Plavnick,
Kaid, & MacFarland, 2015) that produced similar results, indicating that several complex social
skills can be taught to adolescents diagnosed with autism using VBI. !
Chan and John (2012) suggested video modeling could be used to teach sexuality-related
skills, including appropriate dating behavior, as well as aspects of privacy and modesty. Though
no studies are available to guide the development of procedures, some sources are available that
describe intervention procedures for supporting health sexuality education (Travers & Whitby,
2014; Whitby & Travers 2014). Travers and Tincani (2010) describe decision-making guidelines
along with a rationale for providing sexuality education to learners diagnosed with autism. Also,
individuals diagnosed with autism may be at increased risk for sexual exploitation (Travers,
Tincani, Whitby, & Boutot, 2014), and video modeling may be an effective means of teaching
individuals diagnosed with autism to reject unwanted advances, recognize dangerous behavior of
others, and seek help if victimized. The demonstrable benefits of VBI and establishment of video
modeling as an evidence-based practice (Wong et al., 2015), along with the need for systematic
and explicit instruction for complex social behavior, suggest sexuality-related curricula and VBI
may well complement to generate positive socio-sexual outcomes for adolescents and adults
diagnosed with autism, though researchers should investigate what types of VBI, procedures, and
skills are most amenable to this type of intervention. !
VBI has been used to in isolation or complementary to other interventions (e.g., PECS) to
promote various social skills in preschool aged children diagnosed with autism, including basic
communication skills (e.g., requesting), imaginary play skills, and increasing appropriate
transitions from/to activities. VBI also has supported acquisition and generalization of more
complex social skills for elementary school children, including persistent solicitation of peers to
join a preferred activity. Video instruction also can be useful for teaching elementary school
students diagnosed with autism leisure skills such as motion-activated video games (e.g.,
Nintendo Wii™; Spriggs, Gast, & Knight, 2016) and promoting conversation skills (Charlop,
Gilmore, & Chang, 2008; Charlop & Milstein, 1989).!
Video Based Instruction in Life Skills !
A primary goal of life skills instruction is to assist individuals to become more
independent, thus having more opportunities to participate in their community. Life skills
instruction may include teaching personal hygiene (e.g., applying deodorant), job skills (e.g.,
individualized according to employer), and daily living skills (e.g., housekeeping). Many of
these tasks require large or expensive materials (e.g., stove), making it impossible for an
instructor to model in-vivo without “undoing” a step. For example, if the instructor models how
to turn on a gas burning stove, they then must turn off the flame to allow the learner to imitate
this step. This exact performance may be imitated by the learner diagnosed with autism, leading
the instructor to implement additional error correction procedures. VBI eliminates this barrier
while also allowing the instructor to program for multiple variations of materials used across
environments when teaching life skills. !
Life skills instructors should consider the specific set of materials and the individual’s
environment when developing interventions. There will likely be a substantial number of
variations when teaching a specific life skill from one individual to the next. Laundry is one skill
that varies based on the specific materials and environment. Some washers and dryers require
digital setting adjustments while others have a dial for each setting. Additionally, the skills
required to wash clothes in a home are much different than washing clothes in a laundromat or
group laundry facility. The variability among materials and settings requires an accompaniment
of specific models. The ability to individualize models based on specific settings and materials,
allows the learner to view the life skills tasks in the natural environment, thus allowing
instructors to program for generalization across settings, materials, and people (Charlop-Christy,
Le, & Freeman, 2000). !
VBI is different from other forms of modeling in that it allows prompting and directions
to take place in a non-stigmatizing way when delivered via common forms of modern
technology. This technology could benefit the majority of adults diagnosed with autism who are
unemployed or cannot receive proper accommodations at their workplace. According to the
Institute of Education Sciences National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS-2; Newman et
al., 2011) less than half of surveyed of young adults diagnosed with autism had worked for pay
within two years of when data were collected. Additionally, 9.9% of individuals diagnosed with
autism were fired from a job within two years of when the data were collected. These numbers
clearly indicate a need for additional technologies to support individuals with autism in the
Cimera and Cowan (2009) reported that individuals diagnosed with autism require the
most costly vocational rehabilitation services when compared to services for other individuals
diagnosed with disabilities, indicating a need for vocational rehabilitation counselors who
specialize in autism. Similarly, job coaches effectively reduce barriers and enhance employer
accommodations, but such services are expensive and difficult to obtain (Schartz, Hendricks, &
Blank, 2006). VBI may provide some solution to the high costs associated with limited access to
job training for adults diagnosed with autism (Wilczynski, Trammell, & Clarke, 2013). For
example, Sauer, Parks, and Heyn (2010) examined the use of cueing systems (an umbrella term
encompassing VBI, used to describe assistive technology that delivers prompts to independently
complete tasks) as a job training tool for individuals diagnosed with cognitive disabilities.
Results indicated that video prompts as a cueing system were valuable teaching tools for
individuals diagnosed with cognitive disabilities in the workforce. Similarly, Burke et al. (2013)
successfully increased adults diagnosed with autism ability to perform shipping tasks at their
workplace using video modeling delivered through a tablet. The participants in the study and
their caregivers considered the intervention to be socially valid and worthy of recommendation
to other individuals diagnosed with autism in the workforce.!
In addition to VBI saving resources when instructing life skills, a video can serve as a
more appropriate model when targeted tasks are often viewed as private. Regardless of age and
relationship to the individual diagnosed with autism, a live model of toilet training could be
perceived as unethical, yet toilet training is a critical life skill that will increase access to future
social and vocational environments. Drysdale, Lee, Anderson, and Moore (2015) used video
modeling to teach the steps for using the restroom including traveling to the restroom,
undressing, sitting on the toilet, eliminating in the toilet, redressing, and flushing. The young
boys diagnosed with autism included in the study acquired all of the steps for independent
toileting within eight days. Additionally, the use of video modeling required less prompting from
a caregiver or therapist compared to when video modeling was not used. !
There is evidence to support that VBI is an effective intervention to support daily living
and vocational skills instruction for individuals diagnosed with autism. Along with its
effectiveness, VBI can serve as a much needed support for adults diagnosed with autism as they
begin to enter the workforce. Practitioners interested in using VBI to teach life skills, should
consider ways to implement the procedures for their learners diagnosed with autism. Often, VBI
is one element of a larger instructional package to teach these skills, therefore it is important to
consider additional components to accompany VBI, such as various prompt fading strategies
including least-to-most and time delay. !
Component of Systematic Instruction!
The majority of studies using VBI evaluated videos as a stand-alone, independent
variable, in which the participant learns to complete a life skills task from viewing a video model
or a series of video prompts. Although video modeling is an evidence based practice for
individuals diagnosed with autism (Wong et al., 2015), the procedures used do not always
incorporate errorless teaching techniques. Instructors therefore may need to provide additional
prompts and implement prompt-fading strategies for a learner to achieve the mastery criterion for
a task. Specifically, a video may be used as a component of systematic instruction (such as least-
to-most prompts or time delay) to ensure the learner correctly completes the life skills task. For
example, Smith, Ayres, Mechling, Alexander, et al. (2013) used a video model in the prompt
hierarchy to teach high school students with disabilities to perform vocational office tasks. This
procedure saved resources related to training instructors to implement the model and the need for
two full sets of office supplies, while also fading the use of prompts entirely until learners
acquired the skills independently. In another variation, Mechling et al. (2008) used VBI and
least-to-most prompting as a treatment package. Participants were first shown a video prompt
depicting a single step of a cooking task and, if unsuccessful, researchers prompted the
participants to view the video again using least-to-most prompting. Likewise, Mechling, Gast,
and Seid (2010) evaluated a third way to incorporate VBI into a least-to-most prompt hierarchy
that was controlled by the participants. Three different prompts (i.e., picture, picture + audio, and
video + audio) for each step of the cooking tasks were loaded onto a mobile device. Participants
could select the prompt necessary to each complete step, and all participants self-faded their use
of prompts from most intrusive (video prompt) to least intrusive (picture only) until they
performed the tasks independently.!
For some individuals, time delay procedures, where the instructor delivers the controlling
prompt required to evoke a correct response as opposed to progressing through a prompt
hierarchy, may be a more efficient use of instructional time for many individuals diagnosed with
autism (Ault, Wolery, Gast, Doyle, & Eizenstat, 1988). Therefore, if a learner diagnosed with
autism has a history of correctly responding to model prompts, an instructor should consider
supplementing live modeling with video modeling. For example, Graves et al. (2005) used
constant time delay paired with video prompts to instruct high school age students to perform
three cooking tasks, each at different stations within a typical kitchen (e.g., stove, microwave,
countertop). Initially the participants were given the task direction, “Cook the _____,” and
viewed a video of the entire cooking task. Following the video model, video prompts of each
step played following a 0 s delay. The delay was faded to 5 s until all participants performed the
cooking tasks independently. At the completion of the study, all videos, including the priming
video model, were removed from instruction and participants performed the tasks independently.!
When teaching life skills to individuals diagnosed with autism, the goal of response
prompting strategies is to fade the prompt until the learner is independently responding to the
discriminative stimulus, whether that be a task direction (e.g., “clean the window”) or naturally
occurring environmental stimuli (e.g., a smudgy window). However, in some circumstances,
such as when an individual has infrequent opportunities to engage in tasks or if they have
difficulty with short/long-term memory, they may indefinitely be dependent on a video prompt.
If taught to deliver their own controlling prompt (i.e., video), learners diagnosed with autism can
self-instruct through novel tasks and transitions, thus still increasing their independence with
activities of daily living. In such cases, videos may be better characterized as an accommodation
rather than a problem of prompt dependence. !
Evidence supports the efficacy of teaching individuals to self-instruct using videos. Smith
et al. (2015) conducted a review of independent self-instruction on chained tasks. They found 19
studies that met criteria over a 34 year span. While not part of the researchers’ inclusion criteria,
all included chained tasks which were considered life skills. Eight studies used video as the
controlling self-instructional prompt, six of which were presented on handheld devices. The
authors summarized ways in which researchers instructed self-instructional strategies, drawing
attention to the fact that the learner has not generalized these strategies until they are completely
free of instructor support, including any prompts to refer back to technology and error correction
When presented with an unknown task, ideally a leaner would seek out his or her needed
technology (e.g., an iPhone®), and navigate to the specific video model or prompts required to
complete the skill. Yet, every study included in Smith et al. (2015) either included verbal
directions to use technology (e.g., “Use the video to help you make popcorn”), handed the
participant the self-instructional materials following the task direction, or had the self-
instructional materials prearranged to the specific prompt (e.g., video displayed on device screen
so participant only had to press play). Future researchers and practitioners should teach this
pivotal skill to a criterion, plan for generalization from the outset, and assess for maintenance of
self-instruction behaviors. This involves instructors carefully choosing what information to
include in the task direction they present. !
Smith et al. (2016) appear to be the first to examine independent and generalized
initiation of a self-instructional prompt for high school students diagnosed with autism spectrum
disorder (ASD). Following the task directive to complete a novel cooking, office, or party
preparation task, the researchers used progressive time delay to deliver a verbal directive to “use
the iPhone”. All participants independently generalized initiation of retrieving the phone from
their pocket in at least one environment. These findings suggest professionals should consider
including initiation of a prompt as the first step in the task analysis to teach students diagnosed
with autism to self-instruct. For example, if a student has demonstrated success with video
models delivered via an iPhone®, the steps to self-instruct would include taking the iPhone® out
of his or her pocket (or retrieving from set location), pressing the home button, swiping left to
unlock, etcetera, until the student has accessed a video model corresponding to the target task.!
Spriggs, Knight, and Sherrow (2015) taught high school students diagnosed with autism
to self-instruct through three novel tasks (a combination of vocational, academic, and daily
living) using video models embedded within a visual activity schedule on an iPad®. This
combination of two visual strategies, schedules and video modeling, allowed learners to acquire
multiple novel skills while self-instructing. Using an inexpensive application for Apple® devices
(i.e., MyPicturesTalk), researchers used least-to-most prompting to teach students to navigate the
iPad® to the set app, select and view the first video, then perform the modeled tasks. Upon
completion of a single task, participants advanced to the next video by swiping left or pressing a
green arrow. Although the participants in this study only completed three tasks, practitioners
could embed as many tasks as needed into a visual activity schedule to complete in a given
Although most self-instructional studies using video technologies were conducted in
school settings (Smith et al., 2015), it is critical to instruct these skills in the natural environment
as well, such as an employment setting for vocational tasks (Kellems & Morningstar, 2012), a
public university for pedestrian skills (Mechling & Seid, 2011), or an actual apartment for daily
living tasks (Mechling & Stephens, 2009; Mechling et al., 2008). To plan for generalization
across environments during the initial acquisition of self-instructional skills, practitioners could
use Spriggs and colleagues’ (2015) methodology and combine it with procedures used by Smith
et al. (2016). This would consist of teaching learners diagnosed with autism to initiate their
device, navigate the media library, select the visual activity schedule corresponding to the
current or directed environment (e.g., kitchen, Home Depot, walk to post office), and view a
series of novel tasks/transitions presented as video models within the schedule. The technology
could then serve as an instructional resource for the learner replete with videos organized by
environment that learners independently access when all or some of the steps are unknown.!
The use of video models to teach self-instruction of life skills is a relatively new
innovation reported in the research literature. If this form of technology is effective for a learner
diagnosed with autism, we may not necessarily need to fully fade the prompt, but instead view
the mobile device as a prosthetic that they need to access their environment (Ayres et al., 2015).
On the other hand, unnecessary dependence on the device (i.e., always viewing a video model,
regardless of past history of independence) can conflict with goals of increasing task completion,
efficiency, and accuracy. Accordingly, researchers should identify and evaluate strategies to
teach learners to discriminate between situations when video support is and is not needed (i.e.,
distinguishing between, “I do not know how to complete this task, therefore I must self-instruct”
and “I have done this many times and do not need video support”).!
Technology affords teachers and therapists unprecedented resources to deliver
instructional prompting and supports in any setting and in accordance with individual needs.
Moreover, the intuitive design of mobile device hardware and applications, as well as
increasingly ubiquitous nature of mobile technology, generates high social validity for VBI
across various contexts. Teaching with video is not, however, without key considerations and
procedures- simply making and showing a video to a learner diagnosed with autism will not
likely bring desired changes in behavior. As with any teaching approach that uses any medium
(e.g., books, journal articles), adherence to effective procedures for implementation is just as
important as the content being conveyed. Education and related professionals should therefore
consider the current evidence when designing instructional interventions, including those that
As we have outlined in this chapter, educators must make several decisions regarding the
form and content of their video prior to and following video production. Having made these
decisions, educators can proceed to integrate video with systematic prompt fading procedures to
support independence and, perhaps, advance toward self-instruction. Whether teaching social
skills or chained life skills, ample evidence exists to support using VBI for learners diagnosed
with autism (Wong et al., 2015). Furthermore, given the size of the literature base, educators can
easily locate a range of options regardless of the instructional domain. !
As technology changes and possibilities expand, teachers and therapists will likely be
initiating new applications for VBI before researchers are able to evaluate them. Being mindful
of collecting data and attending to the overall quality of instruction will ensure that these novel
applications support the learning needs of students. With the growth of augmented reality and
wearable computers, the near future possibilities for VBI and video based supports could bring
about significant changes in how individuals diagnosed with autism and other disabilities interact
with their environments. However, teacher reliance on any single instructional technique,
including VBI, will not likely result in meeting the unique instructional needs of all students.
Thus, VBI should be accompanied by a range of evidence based practices to support the social,
behavioral, communicative, and functional skills that often comprise educational programming
for learners diagnosed with autism. And although VBI has many logistical advantages (e.g.,
recycling instructional material), teachers and therapists still must individualize instruction when
using this intervention method. One way to achieve this via VBI is to incorporate different types
of VBI for different students and/or for different skills. By packaging evidence based practices
with variations of VBI for different skills and learners, education professionals will better
position themselves to positively impact their students by increasing social and life skills in
current and future environments. !
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Figure 1. Preliminary, pre-production, and post-production considerations for video-based
· Does the learner have necessary visual acuity to see what
is depicted on screen?!
· Does the learner have a generalized repertoire of
Produce or Select Video!
· Will you create a video for the student, or search and
select an existing video that models the target behavior?!
Identify the Perspective the
Video Will Use!
· Is a bystander perspective appropriate for the target
· Is point-of-view (POV) perspective appropriate for the
· Is video self-modeling appropriate for the modeled target
Decide Whether Narration
Will Be Used!
· Will narration likely contribute to improved performance
of the modeled target behavior?!
Identify Whether Video
Modeling or Video Prompting
· Will playing a video that models the entire (chained)
response more likely evoke imitation of the target
· Will short clips that model each step of an entire
(chained) response more likely evoke imitation of the
Identify Who Will Be The
· Will a teacher, therapist, paraprofessional, parent, sibling,
caregiver, or similar individual be responsible for
implementing the intervention procedures?!
· Can the learner be taught to deliver his or her own
instructor using a self-instructional process?!
Prepare a List of Steps for
Applying the Intervention !
· Will you obtain a practice guide that outlines
procedures for video modeling or for video prompting?!
· Will you rely on procedures from a specific study to
generate the list of steps for applying the intervention?!
· How and who will data be collected to evaluate the
effectiveness of the intervention?!
· How will data be collected to ensure the proper
intervention procedures are followed?!
· Who will interpret the data and make decisions about
adjustments to the video(s), instructional agent(s), and/or
steps for applying the intervention?!