Using Smartphones and Tablets in Video Modeling For Autism


There are tons of articles and lists about the best apps for kids with autism. However, you may be missing out on one of the best possible uses of smartphones and tablets for improving services for your learner: the camera app that is already built into the device.

A wealth of research has shown the efficacy of using video modeling to teach children and adults with autism, to train staff on how to implement programs and procedures, and to train parents on interventions. Smartphones and tablets make creating such videos much easier than it was in the past. Here’s why you should be using smartphones and tablets for video modeling for autism, as well as a few things to consider:

  • Be sure you have named the steps of the procedure or program you are modeling. It may be helpful to have those steps written down for the person using the video model.
  • If you are a teacher or practitioner recording your learner, be sure you have consent from the individual’s guardian(s). Also, check in about any recording policies at your school or center.
  • If you are a parent struggling to implement an intervention, request that the teacher or practitioner create a video model. It’s helpful to see someone else doing and to be able to refer back to that video as necessary.
  • If you are taking video of your learner for the first time, you may want to set up the tablet or smartphone without taking video for a few sessions before you actually create the video model. This will help avoid problems with the learner changing his or her behavior because a new (and often desirable) object is in the environment.
  • Consult the literature! As I mentioned before, there is a huge amount of research on video modeling. In recent years, it has been used to teach children with autism to make requests (Plavnick & Ferreri, 2011), increase treatment integrity for teachers implementing interventions (DiGennaro-Reed, Codding, Catania, & Maguire, 2010), teach children how to engage in pretend play (MacDonald, Sacramone, Mansfield, Wiltz, & Ahearn, 2009), increase social initiations of children with autism (Nikopoulos & Keenan, 2004), and more.

With the easy-to-use technology at our fingertips every day, video modeling is a simple and efficient way to demonstrate a new skill. This basic use of smartphones and tablets should not be overlooked because it can have a huge impact on teaching learners with autism new skills or helping parents and staff implement stronger programs and interventions.


DiGennaro-Reed, F. D., Codding, R., Catania, C. N., & Maguire, H. (2010). Effects of video modeling on treatment integrity of behavioral interventions. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 43(2), 291–295.

MacDonald, R., Sacramone, S,. Mansfield, R., Witz, K., & Ahearn, W.H. (2009). Using video modeling to teach reciprocal pretend play to children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 42(1), 43–55.

Nikopoulous, C.K. & Keenan, M. (2004). Effects of video modeling on social initiations by children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37(1), 93–96.

Plavnick, J. B., & Ferreri, S. J. (2011). Establishing verbal repertoires in children with autism using function-based video modeling. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 44(4), 747–766.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

Pick of the Week: Social Skills by Dr. Jed Baker – 20% Off!

Save on these fantastic social skills materials from Dr. Jed Baker this week! Just use our promo code SOCIAL20 at the check-out.

The Social Skills Picture Book is a photographic picture book that depicts children demonstrating various social skills broken down into concrete steps. This book looks at the importance of visual aides in teaching children with autism. Different methods of teaching social skills are outlined, explaining initial instruction, review and generalization of skills. Some of the skills illustrated include:

  • Sharing
  • Taking Turns
  • Tone of Voice
  • Asking to Play
  • Showing Understanding

A concluding chapter addresses promoting peer acceptance through sensitivity training programs for students of various age groups and school staff. This is a complete and practical resource on social skills training for students of all ages!

The Social Skills Training Manual is a comprehensive how-to manual for teaching and developing social and communication skills in students with Asperger Syndrome and related pervasive developmental disorders. This manual covers 70 social skills that most commonly cause difficulty for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Each skill is presented with activity sheets listing how to demonstrate, practice and reinforce the skill, both in the classroom and at home, and also contains a reproducible handout.


“Be a Friend: Songs for Social Skills Training” contains 16 original songs that teach invaluable social skills on an audio CD. Research has shown that learning occurs more rapidly when children are highly motivated to attend. The catchy tunes include:

  1. Be A Friend
  2. Hello
  3. Personal Space
  4. Eye Contact
  5. Volume of Speech
  6. Sharing
  7. Turns
  8. Ask to Play
  9. Compromise
  10. Complement
  11. Sensitive Topics
  12. Teasing
  13. Accepting No
  14. Making Mistakes
  15. Calm Down
  16. Feelings

Pick of the Week: Save 30% on “A Work in Progress” Companion Booklets & DVDs!

Building on the popular guide and curriculum A Work In Progress, this companion series of booklets and DVDs synthesizes information on various teaching strategies with demonstrations of actual sessions with students on video. The Work in Progress Companion Series aims to blend a natural, child-friendly approach to teaching while remaining determinedly systematic. This series offers viewers the unique opportunity to see these approaches implemented in actual teaching environments.

This week, we’re offering the entire Set of 6 Work in Progress Companion Booklets & DVDs for only $99.00 (a $150 value)! Or get one (1) Companion Set for $24.95 only $17.50!  Just use our promo code AWIPSET at check-out to redeem these great savings. View our entire sale here.


Parents and teachers will find this series to be a helpful companion and extension to A Work in Progress. All author proceeds from the Work in Progress Companion Series will go directly to the Autism Partnership Family Foundation which was developed to provide services to families with limited resources, fund research that will investigate new strategies and programs that truly make a difference in the lives of children and families, and disseminate information about evidence-based treatment and provide resources for training parents and professionals.

Volume 1: “Cool” versus “Not Cool” teaches students foundational as well as advanced social skills in the difference between behaviors that are socially appropriate (i.e. cool) and those that are inappropriate (i.e. not cool). In later stages, they go on to actually practice the appropriate form of the behavior and receive feedback on their efforts. Research confirms the clinical experience that “Cool” versus “Not Cool” is effective in teaching social skills and enabling students to monitor their own behavior.

Volume 2: Learning How to Learn teaches and demonstrates programs that researchers have found helpful in teaching students how to learn.

Volume 3: Teaching Interactions offers a conversation-style of teaching which adds the all important element of leading students to understand rationales for why they might want to change their behavior and learn new skills. This booklet and DVD teaches students how to develop understanding and insight that help form their internal motivation.

Volume 4: Token Economy provides step-by-step instructions on how to ensure there is a strong connection between the target behavior and the reward that follows. Token economies have a number of advantages and can be very flexible in adapting to the age of the student, the types of rewards used, and the skills and behavioral targets you are seeking to improve.

Volume 5: Developing Reinforcers shows parents and teachers how to be creative in developing new sources of reinforcement, which is especially useful for students who have limited interests.

Volume 6: Bullying & ASD – The Perfect Storm focuses on the tools needed to help children with autism combat bullying. Students with ASD are particularly at risk because of their behavior issues and their vulnerability. This volume provides practical suggestions that help prevent the devastation of bullying.

Buy one (1) volume for only $17.50* this week using promo code AWIPSET at check-out! View our entire sale here!

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Fostering Prosocial Behavior: A Guest Post by Terese Dana of TD Social Skills

To get along with others successfully, people must exhibit prosocial behavior. Susan Fiske, a social psychologist, defines this as behavior intended to benefit others. It includes behaviors such as, helping, comforting, sharing, cooperating, reassuring, defending and showing concern. Prosocial behavior promotes positive interactions and friendships, and exhibiting these behaviors is considered part of the social norm.  Since prosocial behavior is expected, deficits in this area can lead to unfulfilled attempts at developing friendships.

Many children on the autism spectrum can spend much of their time intensely focusing on their own self-interests.  To enhance their social experiences they will need to learn how to include the interests and needs of others into their daily interactions. To increase prosocial behavior, complex cognitive and emotional competencies, along with specific social skills need to be developed.

Studies have shown video modeling to be an effective tool to teach many different skills and behaviors. Using video modeling DVDs that incorporate perspective taking can help children to understand WHY acting in ways that include the needs, concerns, and interests of others can lead to better friendships.  By viewing social interactions from multiple perspectives, children learn, through modeling, what they can do differently to get better outcomes when engaged in social exchanges.

Why does video modeling work?

  • Most children are highly motivated, interested and thus attentive to video
  • Most enjoy repeat viewings
  • It gives the student the opportunity to observe, discuss, imitate and learn skills and behaviors from peers
  • It is easier to implement and has been shown to be more effective then using live models
  • Many students on the spectrum are visual learners

“ I think in pictures. I do not think in language.  All my thoughts are like videotapes running in my imagination.  Pictures are my first language and words are my second language.”  – Temple Grandin, Ph.D, Teaching Tips for Children and Adults with Autism

Increasing social competency provides children with opportunities to interact with peers more successfully.  Video modeling has been shown to be a particularly effective way for children on the autism spectrum to not only gain skills but to generalize those skills as well.

Terese Dana, BCaBA, is a behavior analyst and social skills instructor who has been helping students find solutions to social, emotional, behavioral and organizational challenges since 1988. Ms. Dana consults for both school and home programs. She collaborated with Madison Elementary School, to establish the Madison Educational Center for Children (MECC) in Madison, NH.Ms. Dana is the creator of the Fitting In and Having Fun Video Modeling Program.  The DVD series includes: Fitting In and Having Fun, Moving On to Middle School and Confident and In Control. She has also created the File Factor Emotional Empowerment System, a tool that helps children regulate their behavior by teaching them how to identify, understand, express and control their emotions.  She is the author of the book, The File Factor; Filing Away Disappointment.

Ms. Dana has appeared on national television, in the New York Times and in The Autism Sourcebook, Everything You Need to Know About Diagnosis, Treatment, Coping and Healing.  She lectures across the country and is the autism consultant for Didi Lightful, a children’s television show currently in production.  Ms. Dana also serves as board President of The Laura Foundation for Autism and Epilepsy and in that role is creating the Laura Adaptive Sports and Recreation Center in Madison, NH.

Video Modeling by Mary Beth Palo of Watch Me Learn

Mary Beth is a dear friend of ours. Many of you know her as the amazing mother who used video modeling to help her son learn to speak. From there came the Watch Me Learn Video Series which has received near unanimous praise. Here are her thoughts on Video Modeling and how Watch Me Learn came to be.

“I was fortunate enough to see Temple Grandin speak years ago…. before she became a star….. I went to the presentation on a whim – I guess to get out of the house (pathetic right?)  Being the mother of an autistic child leads you to do things that a “normal” person wouldn’t be caught dead doing!  At the time, I believe that she only had one book published; Thinking in Pictures.

In that book and in her presentation she referred to her thought process as going back in her mind, retrieving a video tape from her mind’s library and then playing the proper video to think/see….  This hit me like a 2×4 across the head…. 

I am mostly an auditory thinker….. so I guess it didn’t dawn on me that this could be so impactful on educating. Couple this information with 2 years of therapy for my son with no progress, and a light bulb went off in my head.  Pure desperation led me to video modeling.  After my first attempt at VM, as a result my son was speaking within 2 ½ weeks.  Well, needless to say, video became my life and my son just kept learning and learning.  Video was our main teacher and our therapy hours were used for generalizing the skills he learned on video.

Video modeling can be used in sooooo many ways – self modeling, peer modeling, etc…  and it can be used to teach sooooo many skills – from simple receptive language, imitation skills to complex social skills.  Research supports video modeling as an evidence-based teaching method and it has been recognized by the CEC(Council for Exceptional Children) as a valid means of teaching.  The research exists and more will be coming. 

Now, when I teach my son, I always have visuals.  Of course, he was most successful with video, but after years of strictly video, we have been able to branch out into other visual inputs. The learning is always faster with visual inputs ….. even in 6th grade when we are using cookie dough and chocolate chips to make a visual model of the atom nucleus – who would have thought?

Why does it work?  Well, I don’t have the scientific answer to that – as I have yet to find a study researching the brain activity while watching VM.  Watching children for years and knowing how and what they react to, it is easy to see the reason why VM works.  Children love tv, children love other children, children have an inherent desire to be social and VM provides not only repetition but also removes outside distractions enabling a child to concentrate on one thing.

Today, there are many VM products on the market.  These products allow you an easy way to experiment with VM and a great learning opportunity for your children.  VM can also be done in the home, school, therapy and out in public.  You need to decide what is best for you and the child.

I am the proud mother of Brett Palo – a 12 year old boy who is now mainstreamed in 6th grade.  Without VM, he would not be there.  As a result of his success with VM and a zillion phone calls from other desperate mothers, Watch Me Learn Videos were created.  Watch Me Learn’s goal is to teach children in their natural environment – at home, in school and most importantly through play!  A child’s job is to play – let them do their job and learn at the same time!   They will learn without even knowing it!

iPad and Autism?

As a home-based Early Intervention provider traveling to various locations throughout New York City each day, I find my iPhone to be invaluable. It is quite possibly the best “business” expense of my career. It lurks in my bag as a secret weapon of motivation and reinforcement where once a gaggle of heavy and semi-effective toys resided.

With the huge presence that technology has in our lives today it is only inevitable that some gadgets make their way into therapeutic endeavors. While there are negative effects to being plugged in all of the time, it’s hard for me to ignore those moments where technology allows a child to learn something that had been previously difficult or the amazing instances of joint attention that can be facilitated by using these apps. Without a doubt, I’m sold on the fact that the new gadgets with touch screens will continue to be an invaluable tool moving forward in my work with children. However, I can’t silence the little contradictory voice in my head telling me that teaching happens in real life, not on a screen.

Therefore, I use my iPhone in therapy sessions with children sparingly. I am the one setting limits on usage and modeling durations of time that are reasonable and appropriate. Approximately 90% of the apps I use are educational and present great opportunities for the generalization of skills taught using DTT or NET methods. I have also downloaded social skills training videos that have facilitated preparation for things like going to get a haircut. Even though that tiny voice still lurks in the back of my head, the more I read and hear, I am beginning to think that the consensus of people in this community is mainly positive.

I am most excited about programs such as Proloquo2Go, which use the iPad as a more portable and user-friendly augmentative communication device. Not unlike the endless list of apps, the uses are never-ending as well, as outlined in a great article in the SF weekly from August 11, 2010. The iPad and various apps are helping therapists and parents teach children how to draw, write, communicate, read, spell, count, and increase independence through visual schedules.

Using technology hasn’t compromised what or how much I am able to teach. It has enhanced my sessions. How do you feel about it?