Video modelling for kids with autism

A girl dressed in red laughs at a tablet

Children with autism may have difficulties learning social and self-help skills, including

  • how to make friends
  • how to care for personal hygiene (washing, bathing, brushing teeth)
  • how to do chores
  • how to handle transitions between different situations

Video modelling is a proven method to help children with autism gain the skills they need. The techniques behind it have been studied since 1970.

How modelling and video modelling work

The process of modelling involves a teacher or other adult demonstrating a skill or behaviour. The child watches these adults and learns from them.

In video modelling, the child watches a video of this skill or behaviour being demonstrated. This method works well for a wide range of ages. Toddlers, children and teenagers all learn well with video modelling.

What makes video modelling effective

  • It helps you learn better. People pick up skills faster when they see models that look similar to them. When a child watches themself perform the task, their brain finds it easier to pick up the behaviour and practice it.
  • It’s clear and unambiguous. In video modelling, it’s easy to tell who says and does what, without complex explanations.
  • It’s fun. Children of all ages enjoy watching videos of themselves and other people. Just as people of all ages can learn from video tutorials of recipes and life hacks, these children can learn as they are entertained.
  • It reduces stress. Face-to-face interaction and eye contact can be stressful for some students with autism. Video modelling removes that factor from the learning process. The child only needs to focus on what’s happening in the video, and not pleasing the people around them.
  • It reduces distractions. Modelling videos can be edited to remove common distractions such as background noise ad conversations. This prevents the child from becoming overstimulated.
  • You can rewind and replay the behaviour as needed. After recording the behaviour once, the child can watch, rewatch and revise the behaviour as many times as required.
  • It’s closer to real life. Compared to pictures of animation, videos of actual people are closer to real-life situations. They can be easier to learn from than pictures or text alone.

Types of video modelling

There are a few kinds of video modelling:

  1. Basic video modelling, where another child or adult models the behaviour you’re trying to teach.
  2. Video self-modelling, where the child models the behaviour for themself. This can be done by asking the child to imitate your own behaviour, and then recording just their successful attempts. This type has the most research to support it, and may be the most effective.
  3. Point-of-view modelling, which is recorded from the point of view of the child. This shows the child what the task would look like as if through their own eyes.
  4. Video prompting, where video is used as a cue for multiple steps of a task. The entire process is recorded, but the video breaks it down into the separate steps that must be completed. There is some evidence that video prompting is most effective for teaching daily living skills. Presenting each step in a systematic way makes the skills more achievable for some children.

How to create your own video modelling material

This section will focus more on how to create basic and self-modelling videos. However, these steps can be easily adapted for other kinds of video modelling.

Planning the video

  • Identify the skill you want to teach
  • Define and describe the target behaviours exactly. For example, instead of ‘play nicely’, you say ‘ask to join the game’.
  • Decide how you will record the video. You don’t need high-tech equipment like a camcorder or video camera, especially if you’re recording for personal use. Any handphone with a video camera function can also be used to record your video modelling.
  • Plan the script for the video. How does this skill start? What should the child do? How might others respond to them?
  • Find appropriate models or actors. For basic modelling, this can be other adults or children. For self-modelling, the child will be directly involved.

Making the video

  • If you are shooting a self-modelling video, explain the process to your child. Tell them you are making a video or making a movie that will help them learn (what it is you want to teach them).
  • Record the task or behaviour being performed. Describe each step of the process and record them all the way through.
  • Edit the video. For self-modelling, your goal is to remove external prompts and instructions. The final video should show the child performing the task as if on their own.
  • Aim for a final video that’s 30-60 seconds long. A video that’s too long might be boring, and a video that’s too short may not be instructive enough.
  • More tips can be found on the Early Autism Project Malaysia Youtube channel.

Using the video

  • Show the child the video once every 1-2 days. As they get better at the skill or behaviour, you can switch to showing the video just 1-2 times a week.
  • Show the video before the task must be done, as well as during.
  • When you watch with your child, point out important details. This can include how something is done, what to say, and how others might respond.
  • Give the child time to imitate the modelling and practice their new skills.
  • Sometimes a child might still need further help with a new skill or behaviour, but not want to watch the same video. In this case, make a new video that they can watch.


Video modelling is a powerful tool to help kids with autism catch up and learn the rules and skills they need to interact with the rest of society. It makes learning easy, fun and less stressful for both children and their caregivers.


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