Talking on Video May Help Autistic Teens Build Social Skills

Many individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), regardless of age, find difficulty forming and maintaining social relationships with others. Although they may desire having close friendships, individuals on the spectrum may have difficulties creating bonds, and being able to express themselves. Currently, two occupational therapy professors at Boston University are examining if video could be used as a tool to help build social skills in adolescents with ASD.

Gael Orsmond, a SAR associate professor of occupational therapy, and Ellen Cohn, a SAR clinical professor of occupational therapy, are conducting a study titled Videos of Important People (VIP), to determine whether the use of video can help teens improve social skills and strengthen friendships.  In their initial project, Orsmond and Cohn gave disposable cameras to five adolescents on the spectrum and had them take pictures of their social experiences. The professors then used those photos to conduct thorough interviews with the individuals, to examine their social abilities and relationships. A follow-up study was conducted using video cameras.

Orsmond states, “Adolescents on the autism spectrum generally like technology, and we thought that video cameras might give us a window into their perspectives.” She continues, “We worked with three adolescents and got really interesting data. One of the things we saw is that oftentimes these adolescents do have a good understanding of friendship, but they can’t apply it to their everyday life. We also became aware that the camera seemed to be a facilitator of friendship”.

With video cameras proving to be beneficial in having adolescents with ASD be more expressive, Orsmond and Cohn began an 18-month study, collecting data from 20 teenagers on the spectrum, all of which had one friend.  Each adolescent was given a video camera for three weeks, and asked to turn it on when he was doing something with a friend. The other major component of the video was a weekly monologue, in which the adolescents talked directly to the camera and reflected on their friendships, again with specific prompts.

“We do what we call a positive self-review,” says Cohn. “Each week, we edit the video clips and show the adolescents examples of themselves engaging in positive behavior. It’s video self-modeling: if you see yourself doing something well, you’re more likely to do it again”. This was incredibly helpful and significant for these teens, who often feel like they are doing something wrong in social situations. Orsmond and Cohn hope that over time, video will help improve the quality of life for these adolescents.

The ICare4Autism International Autism Conference will be discussing the role of technology in Autism treatment and education on July 2nd in NYC. This conference is just a few days away, and you won’t want to miss it! Register today! For tickets, please click here.

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