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Oct. 17, 2013

Video could transform how schools serve teens with autism

Video-based teaching helps teens with autism learn important social skills, and the method eventually could be used widely by schools with limited resources, a Michigan State University researcher says.

The diagnosis rate for Autism Spectrum Disorder for 14- to 17-year-olds has more than doubled in the past five years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet previous research has found very few strategies for helping adolescents with autism develop skills needed to be successful, especially in group settings.

“Teaching social skills to adolescents with ASD has to be effective and practical,” said Joshua Plavnick, assistant professor of special education at MSU. “Using video-based group instruction regularly could promote far-reaching gains for students with ASD across many social behaviors.”

Plavnick developed group video teaching techniques with colleagues while a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. Their findings are published in the research journal Exceptional Children.

Previous studies have shown many people with autism are more likely to pay attention when an innovative technology delivers information. Before Plavnick’s work, however, there were no investigations of video modeling as an option for teaching social skills to more than one adolescent with ASD at the same time.

The team recruited 13- to 17-year-old students with ASD and used laptops or iPads to offer group video instruction on social behaviors, such as inviting a peer to join an activity. One facilitator showed four students video footage of people helping one another clean up a mess, for example, and then gave them opportunities to practice the same skills in the classroom.

According to the researchers, the students demonstrated a rapid increase in the level of complex social behaviors each time video-based group instruction was used. Students sustained those social behaviors at high levels, even when the videos were used less often.

The students’ parents also completed anonymous surveys and indicated high levels of satisfaction. One reported their child started asking family members to play games together, a skill the teen had never before displayed at home.

Most schools do not have appropriate staff resources to provide one-on-one help for students with autism. The video can be used with a small group all at once and has been shown to be effective.

“Video-based group instruction is important, given the often limited resources in schools that also face increasing numbers of students being diagnosed with ASD,” said Plavnick, who also has begun implementing the strategy as part of a daily high school-based program.

Plavnick’s co-authors are Ann Sam of 3-C Research Institute and Samuel Odom and Kara Hume of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.