Exciting new advances are a nonstop occurrence at the Cornerstone Autism Center. In the last six months facility expansions and improvements have been done in Greenwood and West Lafayette, we’ve gained two new BCBAs, a BCaBA, and a new parent training program has been launched! In addition, a nonprofit foundation that has been established to help and support the autism community. Although it is a 501c3 organization, its existence is integral to the overall Cornerstone mission. That drive to discover new ways to help autism goes for all levels of staff that work here as well.
Dr. Robert Kurtz PhD is Cornerstone Autism Center’s Speech-Language Pathologist. He works with all the kiddos to improve their communication skills. Recently he has started a new program using laptops and mini video recording devices to help him with some of the challenges he faces helping children who have autism and is seeing amazing results in a short time. It’s called Video Self-Modeling (VSM), and it may be a big hit in teaching children with autism speech and language development.
Jarrad: For our viewers at home, can you explain what video self-modeling is?
Robert: Watching someone demonstrate a skill or technique helps us learn how to do it ourselves. The more a person modeling the skill resembles us physically, the better we learn. If I want to be more proficient in something, I’ll get more benefit from watching a video of myself doing it than from watching someone else. Video self-modeling is a way to help modify behavior and teach new skills. As Dr. Seuss says, “There is no one alive who is Youer than you”.
Jarrad: So one of Cornerstone’s kiddos gets a video of them speaking and watches it? How does that help improve speech?
Robert: So we shoot video footage of the child doing something right, like making a good, clear /s/ sound or marking the plural on nouns. Then the child watches him or herself experiencing success at the achievement, and sees the skill demonstrated by someone who looks exactly like them.
The nice thing about video footage is that we can edit it to make it look like the child is achieving 100% success. If I do twenty trials of words that start with /s/, even if it takes five or ten tries per word to produce the target sound, I can edit out all the attempts where the /s/ sound is distorted and leave only the ones where it’s nice and clear. If need be I can copy and paste so the video shows the same trial several times over, but it looks like separate attempts.
Jarrad: Has it assisted them in learning these new skills?
Robert: The researcher in me is cautious about making any claims. I don’t know of any studies of VSM for treating speech disorders, and my own use of it has not been in any way scientifically controlled yet. Speaking as a clinician, though, yes, I think it has. I’m seeing positive developments.
Jarrad: And how is VSM helping you Robert?
Robert: Quite a few of the children I work with don’t like watching my face or making eye contact with me, so it’s hard to show them how to make, for example, a good /s/ sound by “making a cage” with their front teeth and keeping the tongue “inside the cage” so that it doesn’t come out sounding like a /th/ sound. But they will focus more intently on a video of themselves, and sometimes even practice the sound while they’re watching the video.
I’ve definitely seen improvement in performance with the kids I’m treating with VSM. Like I said, I haven’t done a scientific study, so I can’t say for sure that they’re making better progress with it than without it, but they’ve definitely made progress.
As Dr. Seuss says, “There is no one alive who
is Youer than You.”
Jarrad: Is it easier for you to witness these results at Cornerstone compared to if you would implement this in an academic setting?
Robert: I did use VSM a bit in a school setting before coming to Cornerstone, and it worked fairly well. The editing process is very time-consuming, and that looks daunting to a school-based Speech –Language Pathologist with 100 students on their caseload. In the long run, though, I think it has the potential to save a lot of time if it really does result in faster progress on goals—which I think it does.
A nice thing about VSM is that I can burn a DVD of the edited footage and give it to others working with the child to watch outside of therapy. Anyone can pop in a DVD and hit “play”, so it makes a really easy and convenient take-home activity. At Cornerstone I can copy the video onto the child’s iPad, which makes it easy for the child to watch it once or twice a day – or even more. Some of the therapists here are even using them as reinforcers, because the kids like to watch themselves, so it’s a win-win for everyone.
Jarrad: How many hours does it take you to record and edit footage?
Robert: Editing video footage can be really time-consuming, especially if you’re new to it, which I am. I’m getting better and faster with practice, but even so it takes a good hour to an hour and a half to edit 20 minutes of raw footage down to a minute or two of good quality video. The purpose of the editing process is to isolate the on-target trials by the child and put them together for the child to watch. I think it’s time well spent, though, judging from the results I’m seeing.
Jarrad: And what kind of devices do you use now?
Robert: I’m using off-the-shelf equipment and editing software. For the camera, it’s either a Flip video camera or the webcam on my laptop. To edit, I use Windows Live Movie Maker, which came already installed on my laptop. It’s really basic, and I’m new to the editing process, so the videos I make are pretty choppy, but the kids don’t mind. I’m not looking to produce anything slick or fancy; I just want to show the child experiencing success with every attempt and I want that to be what they copy.
Jarrad: How does current technology, compared to 10 years ago, help you to prepare VSM?
Robert: It was a lot harder then. I was using a clunky old computer, checking out a camera from the library, and using Super 8s to later convert to VHS so I could use the editing equipment. It was a really long and time consuming process and a deterrent because I couldn’t manage all that time.
November 26, 2012, cornerstoneac