New London — Verbal aggression, hyperactivity, impulsivity and transitions: All are issues associated with autism, and all can be improved through a relatively unknown method called video self-modeling, said psychologist Melissa Root, who just formed a business to bring the idea to the masses.
Root, a New London resident who owns Root Success Solutions LLC, said the video self-modeling concept is not new; she learned it years ago as a graduate student at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.
What has changed, she said, is the technology, making it so much easier to implement the video self-modeling programs thanks to the ubiquity of video on phones and the simplicity of the latest editing suites. The idea, according to Root, is to take videos of a difficult task or series of tasks, edit out parts when things aren't going well, and show people having trouble with tasks, such as giving presentations, how things would go if everything went smoothly.
"It's really positive to see yourself doing well," Root said. "It's not intrusive .... It doesn't take a lot of time."
Root just came out in July with a book, "Picture Perfect: Video Self-Modeling for Behavior Change," in which she and co-author Melissa Bray explain the process and give examples of how to put the idea to work.
They note that the method has been used to improve a wide range of skills and behaviors — including anxiety, academics, stuttering and even sports mechanics such as free-throw shooting in basketball and penalty kicks in soccer. Video self-modeling also has been shown effective for people with selective mutism — being able to speak in some situations but not in others.
The method is based on Albert Bandura's social modeling theory that connects learning to observation and imitation. The idea is that people learn best when they are modeling the most effective ways of doing things, and video self-modeling takes it a step further by making individuals the stars of their own positive, motivational movies.
"Today, all you need is an iPad or an iPhone," Root said in a presentation last week to members of the Academic Resource Center at Connecticut College. "There are a lot of options for equipment."
College administrators said they might use video self-modeling to help students deal with anxiety, depression, interviewing techniques, peer tutoring and even fundraising efforts.
The idea, said Root, is to develop measurable criteria to determine whether the video technique is working, such as reducing the number of "ums" or "likes" said during a presentation or increasing the number of times students make eye contact during job interviews.
"If it's not worth your while, I don't want you doing it," she told staff members. "It's a fairly painless intervention, and we have years of evidence that shows this works."
Root said staffers need buy-in from the students to ensure success. The idea is to identify one goal behavior or a sequence of behaviors or skills to change, then state the goal in clear, positive terms.
"Use only descriptions you can observe clearly," she said.
The idea is to then shoot video of the student, perhaps someone intimidated by talking in front of classmates, giving a speech in an empty classroom, editing the piece to add in positive classmate reactions that are shot separately. The student will then view the edited video of a successful speech every other day for a few weeks to boost confidence when a classroom talk is scheduled.
Root said the results are often remarkable, with students dramatically reducing their anxiety in making speeches. The results are equally compelling for autistic students, she said, who can significantly reduce their difficulties in sticking to morning routines by watching themselves completing tasks successfully in a smoothly edited video that cuts out areas where they went off task and had to be prompted to return to the routine.
Videos can be shared via online storage systems such as Dropbox or via private urls made available through YouTube. And the best thing, she said, is that by picking behaviors that can be measured, progress can be monitored, and perhaps a video can be re-edited if it is not proving effective or if a student is getting bored watching the initial sequence of scenes.
"There's nobody else doing this," Root said. "There's not a lot of researchers who can translate this to users."
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