Video Enhanced Activity Schedules for Children with Autism: A Promising Package for Teaching Social Skills

Article excerpt

Abstract

Teaching with activity schedules may yield functional skills that are not readily achieved by traditional discrete-trial teaching or by naturalistic intervention strategies. Activity schedules are unique because the procedures focus on teaching a learner to do and say things in the presence of instructional cues accessed independently rather than in response to cues provided by a teacher. Typically, such "self-directed" schedules make use of notebooks or placards that contain pictures or words to cue a learner's sequences of activities. To supplement such procedures, we explored how video models may be used as instructional cues within computer-presented activity schedules. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate how using computers to combine the two instructional technologies-activity schedules and video models-could enhance the use of activity schedules in teaching, particularly in the realm of social skills.

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At the request of the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, the National Research Council convened a panel to examine the issues and practices of educating children with autism (National Research Council, 2001). In versions of two papers solicited by that panel, Goldstein (2002) and Wolery and Garfinkle (2002) remind us that a lack of social skills, including play, is a defining feature of autism. Goldstein (2002) underscores the importance of qualitative and quantitative amelioration of social deficits, noting that to do so "can set the stage for other developments as well, e.g., generalized use of newly acquired language skills, modeling of new language skills, inclusion in more normalized educational settings, and, hopefully, the development of positive, long-lasting relationships with peers and others" (p. 390). Yet Wolery and Garfinkle (2002) find play skills to be understudied and conclude that "relatively little is known about teaching them" (p. 466). McConnell (2002) agreed, stating that "There are few examples of empirical evaluations of intact, well-described and disseminable interventions or curricula" (p. 367), at least when it comes to social interaction. He maintains this should be a priority for researchers on behalf of teachers and parents of children with autism, and goes on to say that "although empirical support for various intervention components seems strong, the literature still requires practitioners to assume a significant burden in developing a logistically feasible yet sufficiently powerful package for use in their classroom. Researchers ... may want to develop and evaluate one or more intervention packages that represent compilations of techniques identified in existing research" (p. 368; italics, added).

In our home and center-based early intervention programs for children with autism, we employ a number of such research-based interventions, including activity schedules and video modeling, and we have combined these tactics to develop instructional packages for teaching children to practice social skills in the context of on-going routines. Specifically, we have capitalized on the multimedia capabilities of today's reasonably affordable personal computers as a means of presenting activity schedules that are embedded with other methods for teaching social skills, including auditory and video modeling. During their experience with these computer-mediated schedules, learners have become skilled not only at independent schedulefollowing, but also at initiating social responses as they do so. We believe the combination of "low-tech" instructional technology and "high-tech" information technology has potential as a more "powerful package" of the type for which McConnell (2002) calls.

In this article, we will: (a) briefly discuss the component technologies-activity schedules and video modeling-that we have combined in PowerPoint@ and delivered via computers; (b) summarize the steps involved in creating a computer-mediated video-enhanced activity schedule; (c) provide a detailed case example of how a video-enhanced schedule was used to improve the social skills of one learner; and (d) suggest questions for future teaching and research. …