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Video Self-Modeling (VSM) for Children with Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities


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Video Self-Modeling For Children With Autism


Introducing Dr. Tom Buggey

Dr. Tom Buggey, Ph. D.

Siskin Children’s Institute’s Chair of Excellence in Early Childhood Special Education
Professor, School of Education
The University of Tennessee - Chattanooga


Dr. Tom Buggey, Ph. D. Dr. Buggey worked in the field of special education as a teacher and supervisor in the US and Canada prior to receiving his Ph D. in Early Intervention from Penn State University in 1993.


He then spent 14 years as a professor at The University of Memphis. While in Memphis he was the primary investigator on numerous grants, most of which provided technical assistance to schools and families in the areas of inclusion, assistive technology, positive behavior supports, early intervention, and school reform.


He also worked closely with the State Dept. of Education and the Division of Mental Retardation Services on numerous projects. In addition to the grants, he was also responsible for designing the curricula for the 5-course Home Manager Training Program now being offered in most Community Colleges in Tennessee – the first such program in the country.

Dr. Tom Buggey also was instrumental in establishing the Access Center for Technology, the first ATA accredited assistive technology center located on a university campus. In 2007 he was appointed Siskin Chair of Excellence in Early Intervention at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where he focused on his line of research in Video Self-Modeling (VSM).


He has conducted research on this very promising technique (especially with children with autism) since 1993 and has published numerous research papers on the topic. In 2009 he published the first book on VSM Seeing is Believing. He is currently on the editorial board of Focus on Autism and serves on the advisory boards of Autism Behavior Services, Lookatmenow, and Invirtua. In December of 2014 he retired so that he could focus on the next steps in video modeling: providing a way to bring VSM and video-based instruction into mainstream use in the field of autism. He presently resides in Hixson, TN with his wife Ann with children and grandchildren nearby.

Consulting and Training

I am available to conduct training or to speak to groups large or small. The promotion of VSM as a positive intervention has become somewhat of a passion for me and I enjoy sharing my experiences and work.

1 1/2 to 3 hours - time needed to provide an overview and "how to". For those who have done any video editing, a shorter time is recommended.

Full day - more in depth and hopefully we can create some videos.

Pricing is somewhat negotiable. Please contact me for specifics.



Seeing is Believing (2009) Woodbine House Pubs. 

Tom Buggey's users' guide to VSM. Still current except it does not have information on VSM use with iPads and tablets. You can find that information on this site. It is presently out of print, but can probably still be had, used for a mere pittance.

Update: I see that the book is now being sold on Amazon for over $40 = This is a rip-off. Its price new was only $15. If you do a search, you may find pdf versions for little or no cost.



Resources: Downloads that provide answers to the how and why of VSM.
Good marketing stuff for sharing with your supervisor, therapist, principal, etc. Articles and posters are in PDF format...

Click on the buttons below. The powerpoint will be seen on SlideShare. The other documents should download directly to your computer. These are all public domain and are free. Please do give credit if used publicly.


How to edit footage on the iPadTM


Steps in making a VSM video


VSM Powerpoint Presentation on Slideshare


Intro article on VSM - Young Exceptional Children


Poster Presentation on work with 2 - 3 yrs old in MN


VSM and Reading. One of the best studies IMHO


Putting individual words into short sentences - Movie


Sample parent permission form


Sample Storyboard - getting ready for school

Video Editing Apps/Software

iMovie@ and Movie Maker@ - The two major products of Apple and Microsoft respectively. Often these will be bundled and provided free with new computers. Purchased they are not overly expensive. You can buy Movie Maker for Macs and iMovie for PC. 
Apps for iPad/tablets - There are many. Check the Apple store and you will find several priced below $6.00.  Also, Google "video editing apps for tablets" and you will find more. Note that some of these are the main editing engines, while others are add-ons, often allowing additional effects.


Above - VSM overview video with examples

Sites Related to Video Modeling

Links: to sites with video modeling related services. I endorse these sites and developers. I receive no money from them.

  • InnerVoice - Powerful and inexpensive tool for language and Speech. Amazing!

  • Invirtua - Uses Avatars for language and instruction purposes. Very flexible - allows children to control emotional expressions and movies = Virtual puppeteering.

  • Autism Animated - Site produced by invirtua creator, Gary Jesch. For those interested in cutting edge tech use with kids with autism, this is the place to see and be.

  • MeTV - Shane Spence and Anthea Naylor have taken VSM out of the realm of research and into their classrooms (and to regional TV). This Australian couple has done truly amazing things and obtained amazing results.

  • Autism Brainstorm - The Brainchild of Kathleen Tehrani, Brainstorm's goal is to unite the autism community and to provide a platform for providing the latest in news and innovation in the world of autism. They have a large library of webcasts saved to Youtube including a series I did on VSM and other forms of video modeling. The leaders of each of the websites listed above have appeared in these webcasts.

Below - A short, but good, piece done by a local channel.


About VSM - VSM Q & A

2. How does one do that?

A: It is not as difficult as you might imagine to make children appear to be more advanced or acting more appropriately. Here are 3 basic methods we use:

     1. Imitation: If your child can follow directions or mimic your behavior, you can use this technique  We often use this method when working with language skills. Take video of your child's words. It really helps to get a few verbs.  It is easy to snip the words off of the original video and store them in the video editing program (simple cut and paste). The individual words can then be combined into short sentences and placed into a 2-3 minute video. If your child has trouble with morphemes such as irregular past tense words (e.g. gone, went, read, saw) have the child imitate when you say them and make a video of the child successfully using them. If you are a parent or teacher, make sure to consult with your Speech/language Pathologist to find skills that are developmentally appropriate.

     2. Role-play: A fun way to make VSM video is through role-playing. This is especially effective for building social skills and for extinguishing inappropriate behaviors. For example, we worked with 2 boys who were having daily tantrums in school. We observed and used a functional behavior assessment to determine triggers for the tantrums. We came up with 4 scenarios and each one became a scene in their VSM video. One of these triggers was not being called on when they knew an answer. So we acted that out giving prompts to the actors about what to do "everyone raise your hands and Ms. B is going to call on Jenni. Ian you need to look at me and smile when she does this. got it? Places everyone. action!" we added a very short clip later of Ian saying "I handled that well. Ms. B will call on me later." We combined the 4 scenes, showed the children (7 yr olds) the video, and there were no more tantrums over the last 6 mos. of school. We also used storyboards with stick figures to draw the "script". Kids loved doing this.

     3. Let the cameras roll:  If the child is not cooperative and has trouble following directions, you may need to set the camera up and let it roll in order to capture rare behaviors. We often use this method for teaching eating skills. If a child only puts food to mouth twice during the lunch period you can capture those 2. Over several days you will gain a small collection. Use the editing software to cut out each example of using the spoon and put it together. Voila, you have a video of a child rapidly eating lunch.

3. What equipment do I need to get started?

A: You need something that enables you to capture Video (camcorder, smart phone, iPad, etc.) and you need video editing software (don't panic! good video editing apps can be purchased for under $5.00. Some for PCs are free). All tend to be user-friendly.

4. Does it work for anyone? Does it have limits?

A: I think there are limits that are based on age, degree of cognitive disability, and the type of behavior being addressed. Placing a lowest limit on use can be tricky. For some years, I believed the lower limit for VSM was the 4th birthday. However, almost all of my work with 3 yr olds dealt with social skills. The Early Intervention people in MN made me see the light. They were very successful with children as young as 2 (see the poster session on the Resource page). They worked mainly with language and functional skills. Thus, the lower limit is unknown, and may be behavior-specific <- There's a great dissertation or thesis project.

5. Are there any dangers associated with VSM?

A: No, not with the method. It is fun and enjoyable and only positive images are used. The only possible danger is if the behavior selected is too far beyond the child's level. I wouldn't be able to learn guitar if I mimicked playing while Jimi Hendrix was playing in the background. I might be able to learn some chords, because that is nearer to my level. So make sure you work with your friendly neighborhood therapist for any skills in language or physical development. Make sure they are within reach.


1. What is VSM?

A: A technique that allows children to view themselves performing above present levels or in a more appropriate manner. This is referred to as Feedforward (Dowrick, 1975). Typically, some degree of video editing is needed to make the child appear more advanced. Depicting advanced behaviors is not that difficult.

Other forms of video modeling:

1. Point-of-view: A peer or adult completes a task while a camera is positioned at the eye level of the intended observer. This is useful for functional and academic skills. When the observer views the video it shows what he would see when completing the task. typically the only part of the filmer that is seen is the hands. So making beds, job coaching tasks, and doing math problems would be appropriate. One of the great aspects of point-of-view and peer modeling is that once you have a video, it can be used with others, enabling you to amass a video library of diverse skills.

2. Peer video modeling: Have others act out scenarios. Try to have the model as close in age and other attributes to the viewer as possible (See the works of Albert Bandura).

3. Avatar or animated modeling: Children love cartoons. There are products out there that can do this, but I don't see this being carried out by anyone without significant training. Sesame Street uses all 3 of these forms of modeling.

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