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How to Use ABA Video Modeling

How do you use ABA video modeling with your learners? Today, we’re talking about how video modeling can expand play sequences. Video modeling is one of the tools we have in our toolbox. It’s an evidence-based approach to teaching. And it’s something that’s really helpful in teaching play.

What is Video Modeling Autism?

We had a student many years ago who really struggled with play. Her play was pretty repetitive. She didn’t know what to do with the materials and had already done imitation programs and close-ended play. But something about more of the open-ended play was really challenging for her. And so we ended up recording Shayna playing a whole bunch of different activities. We taught the student these scripts one at a time by showing her the videos. 

Then, eventually, after learning a script of four or five videos, she started creating her own play sequences. Because it got too hard for her to remember all of the steps in order, she started mixing up all the steps. And it actually became a lot more natural. She developed a lot more natural pretend play and didn’t even need the scripts anymore.

It’s always really cool when you see that generative language. Some therapists wonder, should I mark that wrong on the data sheet because she was mixing up the play sequences? But that’s our ultimate goal. It doesn’t need to be memorized. We want to see if students can think outside of the box or start to combine and create their own scripts. 

How We Use Video Modeling in ABA

So way back, when we used to do video modeling, it used to be so daunting because we would have to take out a video camera and then transfer it over to a VHS tape. Now it’s so easy. You just take your phone and make a video model sequence pretty quickly. So I love this technology and I actually still use it a lot in practice.

So where do you start if you’re looking to teach your learner a new play sequence or to expand the sequences that they already have? The first thing is to take task analysis data. If your learner really likes to play with a car ramp, watch them play with the car ramp and take probe data and write down all the things that they’re currently doing. Then using a task analysis data sheet, you can expand on that. 

Markdown whatever it is they do. Let’s say they put the car down the ramp and then put gas in the car. That’s all they really have, they just keep putting the car down the ramp, or they keep going to put the gas in. You might think, “well, they could also pretend to crash the cars or they could put the car up the ramp.” Then write all of those steps in that task analysis. 

Before reading further, make sure you download our free task analysis template!

How to Use the Task Analysis for ABA Video Modeling

You have this really, really easy technology at your fingertips to take a video of you, a sibling, or a peer doing those steps of the task analysis.

I’ve had really great team meetings where I can sit around with a team of therapists, even mom, or a sibling and say, “Okay, let’s all play with this car ramp. And let’s see all of the various ways that we can play with this.” It’s really cool because therapists come up with an idea and then the seven-year-old sibling comes along and plays with it completely differently than we even thought of. Write all of the ideas you all come up with down in the task analysis and then video each one. 

Now, when you’re doing that video, you really want to slow it down. This is the part that doesn’t come as naturally because, for me, when I look at play, I do it pretty fast. I can take the car down the ramp, through the car wash, and then back up the ramp again and I’m done in 10 seconds. The thing is, we need the video itself to be slow enough so that our learners can process it. So they need to be able to watch it and be able to recreate it afterward. Go the slowest you can possibly go. Sometimes I count in my head as I’m going up the ramp. I count to 10 seconds just so that they’ve got that time to process.

How to Teach Play Through ABA Video Modeling

Typically, I tell our instructors to present the learner with the play activity and let them play first before showing the video model. That’s when I record my data. It does not have to be in order, but I take a look at what they’re doing. I literally just check off the steps they’re able to do independently, and then the rest would be prompted or just a 0. Then I would go into having them watch the video model and teaching that aspect of it. 

You want to start with one sequence at a time and show your learner the whole video. Then have them rewatch the video, pause it, and have them do the actions along with the video. So you can put the car down the ramp, you pause it, and they do the action. You can gently help them complete those actions from behind. And then eventually go through the entire video. Use the task analysis data sheet to record the level of prompting that was required, whether they could independently follow the actions on the video or if they needed a bit of a reminder. The next day, you go back and take your cold probe data again before watching the videos and practicing the routines that are in the videos.

Once they master that then move on to a new play sequence. You can either keep expanding on that one play sequence so that they have more and more things to do with it. Or you can try a whole new play sequence. And keep the materials from the previous sequences available. So, if they’ve learned the doll play sequence and the tea set play sequence, and now you’re working on a car ramp, have the tea set and the doll out and available so that you can keep practicing it and keep playing with it even though it’s not the current set that you’re working on. Hopefully, they can start generalizing a lot of those play skills.

Structure Play While Promoting Creativity

You might think that this isn’t the way play develops. And while it seems a little bit too structured or too rigid, the goal is not to force them to stick to just this routine. The goal is to create some structure around the very open-ended activity that a lot of our kids really struggle with. So if the task analysis says that they need to put the car down the ramp, and then crash the cars, but they put the car down the ramp and then put it through the carwash, that’s great. But if they just keep putting the car down the ramp over and over again, that’s where we need to help them come up with some other things that they could do with the car. 

So by no means is it a way to stunt their creativity or not let them come up with their own ideas for the car. But it’s to help those kids who don’t have those ideas of what else to do with the car. And then eventually using more natural alignment teaching, new toys, and new models to generalize that skill. 

When you’re doing a life skill, such as brushing your teeth, you need to go through those steps in sequence. But when you’re doing play, those steps don’t need to be done in sequence. I don’t care if my learner drives his car up the ramp first or after the carwash, it doesn’t matter. Play is play. It’s flexible. 

How ABA Video Modeling Promotes Imitation

Sometimes we see that, because we’re teaching our learners to copy a video, our learners actually start to look around in preschool or kindergarten, because now they’ve been taught to copy a model. They’re actually looking around to see what kids are doing in the classroom. So not only are you getting them to copy your videos and learning play sequences, but they’re also then starting to look at their peers and copy, which is so cool. Because if you actually look at any kid in a kindergarten class or a preschool class, that’s what they’re doing, they’re all copying each other during play. Those imitation skills are really key. 


So in summary, today we talked about the goal of ABA video modeling and expanding play sequences. We also talked about how to use a task analysis data sheet to probe the skills they have and then take data on the skills that they’re learning and acquiring through watching that video model. And then using those video models to expand their play skills and eventually generalize to more natural play. 

For more information on ABA video modeling, claim your free download of a task analysis datasheet. 

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