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An emerging body of research demonstrates the effectiveness of video self-modeling (VSM) in addressing social, communication, and behavioral functioning of children with autism spectrum disorders. The primary purpose of this study was to examine the benefits of a VSM intervention in increasing the social engagement of young children with autism spectrum disorders. The study expands previous research on VSM by measuring social interactions with same-aged peers in a natural setting rather than with adults in a controlled clinical setting. Intervention and maintenance effects were measured in addition to the social validity of the VSM procedure. The results of the VSM intervention are provided, and implications for practice and future research are discussed.
Autism is a complex neurological disorder that leads to significant impairment in three broad areas of functioning: social interactions; communication; and restricted, repetitive behavior (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). The significant deficits in functioning can be taxing for school psychologists and other school personnel, who often are presented with limited time, resources, and training. Compounding matters, the number of students identified with autism and its related disorders (i.e., Asperger Syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder--not otherwise specified [PDD-NOS]) in educational settings has been steadily increasing over the last decade (Shattuck, 2006). The complexity of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), combined with the apparent increase in students receiving services for ASD, has intensified the need for school psychologists and other school personnel to develop and deliver quality, evidenced based early intervention programming for young children with ASD.
The Need for Early Social Programming
Social skills deficits are a fundamental feature of ASD and are well documented in the literature (Rogers, 2000). Individuals with ASD exhibit significant deficits in the ability to initiate and maintain effective social interactions, often leading to social withdrawal (Hauck, Fein, Waterhouse, & Feinstein, 1995). Though social skills deficits are a central feature of ASD, few young children receive adequate social skills programming (Hume, Bellini, & Pratt, 2005). Hume et al. found that fewer than 16% of young children with ASD receive social programming as part of their early intervention services. According to Rubin and Burgess (2001), the development of social-cognitive skills is heavily dependent upon peer interactions. The high degree of social withdrawal experienced by many young children with ASD may preclude them from developing effective social skills, such as initiating and reciprocating interactions, and having the ability to take another person's perspective. Perhaps most detrimental to children with ASD, severe deficits in social functioning can significantly affect social interactions and interfere with the ability to establish lasting and meaningful friendships, leading to rejection and isolation, which, in turn, may contribute to the emergence of anxiety and depression (Bellini, 2004; Tantam, 2000). Early intervention practices that promote positive social interactions with peers would be instrumental in the improvement of quality of life and learning for young children with ASD.
A number of intervention strategies have been developed to facilitate both adult--child and child--child interactions in young children with ASD, including pivotal response training, adult prompting, environmental modifications, and peer-mediated instruction (Rogers, 2000). Young children with ASD can benefit from arranged environments that include structured, preferred activities and opportunities for positive interactions with more socially competent peers coupled with targeted, direct intervention to enhance individual skills (McConnell, 2002). Though peer and adult prompting procedures provide an effective strategy for increasing social engagement (McConnell, 2002; Rogers, 2000), the obvious limitation of prompting strategies is that the child with ASD may limit social engagement to only instances in which prompting is provided.
Video Modeling and Video Self-Modeling (VSM)
Researchers have interpreted the success of VSM through a range of conceptual lenses, including behavioral (Nikopoulos & Keenan, 2004), cognitive (Kehle, Bray, Margiano, Theodore, & Zhou, 2002), and social--cognitive perspectives (Dowrick, 1999). Nikopoulos and Keenan (2004) speculated that watching certain activities or play items on video serves as an establishing operation, thereby increasing the reinforcing properties of the activities and items featured on the video. Kehle et al. posit that watching edited self-modeling videos that depict positive and efficacious behavior may alter the viewers' memories of their past behaviors. That is, their memories of past maladaptive behaviors may be replaced by memories of exemplary behaviors. Finally, Dowrick (1999) asserts that children not only acquire skills by observing themselves on video, but also increase self-efficacy through the viewing of their own efficacious behavior.
Video Modeling and VSM for Children With ASD
Bellini and Akullian (in press) conducted a meta-analysis of video modeling and VSM research for children and adolescents with ASD. Results were synthesized across 23 peer-reviewed studies and 73 participants. Results of the meta-analysis suggested that video modeling and VSM are effective intervention strategies for addressing social--communication skills, behavioral functioning, and functional skills in children and adolescents with ASD. Most salient to the present study, the findings of the meta-analysis demonstrated that video modeling and VSM are effective strategies in improving the social functioning of young children with ASD. Results indicated that skills acquired via video modeling and VSM maintained over time and transferred across person and settings. Perhaps most important to time-strapped educators, video modeling and VSM are relatively brief intervention strategies. The interventions included in the meta-analysis produced rapid increases (or decreases in some cases) in targeted skills with a median treatment length of nine sessions.
Despite these encouraging findings, a number of study limitations were noted in the meta-analysis conducted by Bellini and Akullian (in press). First, few studies provided a measure of social validity and intervention fidelity. Social validity refers to the social importance and acceptability of the intervention from the perspective of the consumer of services (Schwartz & Baer, 1991). Social validity is an important area of inquiry given that video modeling and VSM are relatively unknown procedures to educators, and given the perceived technological capabilities required to implement the intervention. Intervention fidelity refers to the extent to which the intervention was implemented as intended. The omission of intervention fidelity data makes it difficult to determine whether poor intervention effects are the result of an ineffective intervention, or the result of a poorly implemented intervention (Gresham, Sugai, & Homer, 2001). In addition, few studies have measured social and communication functioning in natural settings, such as the child's typical classroom.
The importance of teaching social skills in the natural environment is stressed by Gresham et al. (2001), who concluded that the failure of many social skill interventions was a result of interventions that are often implemented in isolated, decontextualized settings. Another limitation noted in the meta-analysis was the failure of many studies to adequately control for the effects of other intervention strategies, such as prompting and reinforcement for the performance of the target behaviors. It was noted that future research should examine video modeling and VSM alone, without the use of other intervention strategies. A final limitation of the studies examining social engagement in young children with ASD was that most measured social interactions with adults or with siblings, rather than with same-aged peers.
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