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Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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6.1 Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

The best known and most widely used naturalistic intervention is the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS).This was devised in the 1990s with the aim of teaching functional communication skills, especially to autistic children with little or no language. Each child is individually assessed to identify objects and activities that he or she finds rewarding, and a booklet or board of small pictures is compiled matching the child's preferences.

The child is then guided through different stages towards the goal of making spontaneous requests for these items, one adult acting as a communication partner and a second adult as the child's physical prompter. As the child reaches for a desired object, the physical prompter then physically guides the child to pick up a picture of the object and release it into the communication partner’s hand. The physical prompter gradually reduces the prompting as the child becomes more independent in selecting pictures of what he or she wants, and exchanging them for the object itself.

Once the child is using pictures in spontaneous communicative exchanges, PECS intervention aims to strengthen this spontaneity and to enhance the child’s ability to distinguish between pictures, increasing the number available to them, firstly from a board and then from a folder. The child is also encouraged to generalise his/her new-found communication skills to different settings and communication partners, to produce more complex communications, and eventually make comments about things they see rather than just requesting things they want.

Watch the following video clip which illustrates the use of PECS in classrooms Queensmill School in Hammersmith. Notice that these children have reached the stage of combining pictorial symbols with phrases such as 'I want', and sometimes saying the sentences out loud. Look carefully at how the communication partners are using PECS in these clips, and keep this in mind for Activity 4, coming up in the next section.

Download this video clip.Video player: aut_1_wk05_pecs.mp4
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