What is Picture Exchange and what is it for?
Picture exchange is an assistive technique that allows children to communicate. Systems like PECS are called augmentative communication systems- sign language is another example. I like to teach PECS over sign language for two reasons; it doesn't limit children to their ability to imitate motor movements(often a deficit area for kids with autism) and it can be used to communicate with anyone, including peers. If we teach sign language we are teaching the child to communicate with the select people in his life who know sign language. If we teach pecs the child can bring a picture to anyone at all and they can understand what he is asking. The key to PECS is that it not only gives the child vocabulary they don't otherwise have, but it teaches them to initiate communicative exchanges and interactions. This is something children with autism often don't know how to do. For instance, they might be able to say a word, but they don't know how to turn to a person and use that same word to ask for the item when they want it. In order to successfully teach the initiation piece, the way you prompt and use PECS is very important.
The stages of Picture Exchange
PECS is taught in 6 stages.. You don't need to memorize these, but it helps to have an understanding of where we are going with things.
- Teaching the exchange with one picture
- this stage takes two people, one to be the communicative partner and one to be what's called the "ghost" prompter. It's very important at this stage that the communicative partner NOT prompt, or else that initiation piece is not being taught.
- Distance and persistance
- getting to the point where the child will get the book on their own and travel distance to the person that has the item to use the card to ask for it
- Discriminating pictures
- Being able to choose from many pictures the specific item the child wants
- Building Sentence structure
- going from using one picture to ask for something to creating sentences like "I want a hug" (This is what the red strip on the bottom of the book is for)
- Responding to "what do you want"
- Saying phrases like "I see a plane!"
Phase one looks like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNbucDWEfpg
Here's the really important thing to remember in phase 1
- The person that has access to the item the child wants is the communicative partner- there job is to "entice" the child to ask for the item. They should NOT prompt the exchange. Don't point to the book, don't hold at your hand, don't ask "what do you want". If it's a toy make that toy look really fun. If it's snack go ahead and munch on a cracker.
- The second person is the "ghost prompter" They should NOT communicate with the learner! Their job is to be a ghost- as invisible as possible. Don't talk. Wait for the learner to reach for the item. THEN and only then does your job start- take the learner's hand and provide only as much support as necessary to guide the learner to pick up the picture and hand it to the communicative partner. Don't do this before the learner reaches for the item, that is basically putting words in the child's mouth. We don't want to prompt the learner to ask for something unless they actually want the item, so them reaching for that item is our cue.
Roles in phase one
Ghost prompter is usually the1:1 assistant
Communicative partner would usually beThe general ed teacher, assistant, or another student
Ghost prompter should sayNOTHING AT ALL
Communicative Partner should saycomments to entice the child to request the item, "mmm I have yummy crackers"
Communicative Partner should prompt the student byTRICK QUESTION- The communicative partner should not prompt the student
Has the items the child might ask for easily availableThe communicative partner
Beyond Phase one
- I'm not going to go over each phase specifically right now. Just know that once the child learns to hand a card themselves the "ghost prompter" is faded. After phase one, it's okay for the the communicative partner to give tiny prompts like pushing the book towards the child or making the sure the book is nearby.
- After phase one you want to create situations where the child has to go some distance to obtain the book or the item. If the child can only ask for something when the book is placed directly in front of them and they are seated at the table that's not super functional. If you are holding each block and the child is asking for them, scoot away a few feet and see if they child can move towards you to hand you the picture. If that works scoot a little further. Maybe get up and assist another child(still holding the blocks in view).
- Treat the book like you would a child's backpack or coat, don't carry it around for them. At first they will need a little prompting to pick it up and bring it with them but you want to fade that as fast as possible.