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Hey everyone!  I’m back with Part 2 of my post of about the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS).  

A couple of days ago, I told you all about what PECS is and about my experiences implementing Phases 1 to 3.  If you missed it click here!

Phase 4: Making Sentences

The goal of Phase 4 is to: introduce sentence structure, promote verbalisation, and monitor the progress of the child.  

Phase 4 begins when the child is able to use 12 to 20 pictures and discriminate between them.  In order to make a sentence, the child is taught to place an ‘I want’ symbol with one of the pictures onto a sentence strip and then use it during the communicative exchange.  

This phase is similar to Phase 1 in that it requires two adults: the ‘Helper’ and the ‘Communication Partner.’  The Helper begins by placing the ‘I want’ symbol on the left side of the sentence strip and waiting for the child to choose a picture symbol from his/her communication board or book.  The Helper then guides the child’s to the sentence strip and physically prompts them to put the picture onto the strip and hand the entire strip to the Communication Partner.  The Communication Partner reads the sentence while pointing to the symbols and also giving the child the item that they requested.  Similar to earlier phases, the physical prompts are faded as the child learns what is expected.  

You may want to go back to the activities that you were playing in earlier phases in order to get lots of practice with the ‘I want’ sentences.  Out comes the Gruffalo felt board again!

The next step is to teach the child place the ‘I want’ symbol onto the sentence strip themselves (using the Helper to physically prompt them again).

Once this is achieved, the Helper’s next job is to prompt the child to point to the symbols on the sentence strip as the Communication Partner reads it. Often this will lead to increased eye contact, especially if the sentence strip is held close to the Communication Partner’s face! 

The most important aspect of this Phase is the promotion of speech.  When reading the the sentence strip to the child the Communication Partner pauses after saying ‘I want,’ leaving time for the child to name the item that he wants.  Any vocalisation during the pause is rewarded immediately by providing the child with the item and giving lots of praise. 

Phase 5: Answering ‘What do you want?’

During this phase, the child is taught to respond to the question ‘What do you want?’  The person asking the question points to the ‘want’ symbol and asks the question, slowly increasing the delay between the point and the question.  Eventually, the child will be able to answer the question without the partner having to point to the ‘want’ symbol. 

Phase 6: Commenting 

The first 5 phases of PECS focus on the child learning to request things.  However, as we all know, communication is about a lot more than requesting!  During this phase, the child is taught to comment on the things that he/she sees.  The goal is for the child to place the ‘I see’ symbol onto the sentence strip with the symbol for what he/she sees and then give the sentence strip to their Communication Partner. 

The first step is to comment in response to a question.  The Communication Partner holds up the ‘I see’ symbol and places it near the sentence strip before holding up an item and asking ‘What do you see?’  Once the child learns to successfully answer ‘I see’ questions, we can start to mix up our questions.  First place the ‘I want’ and ‘I see’ symbols in the top left corner of the communication book.  Then intermix your ‘What do you see?’ questions with ‘What do you want?’

Finally, the last part of Phase 6 is to promote spontaneous comments.  The adult no longer asks ‘What do you see?’ but instead creates an interesting and exciting environment which will motivate the child to want to comment on what he/she is seeing.  

Some ideas about how to elicit these spontaneous comments: 
– read lift-the-flap books (e.g. Brown Bear slider book, or Where’s Spot books)
– pull exciting toys out of a bag
– look out the window or go for a walk

New Products!

I am currently teaching ‘I see’ comments to the little guy that I wrote about in my last blog post.  He absolutely loves interactive books (as do lots of children with Autism) because they are structured, involve matching, and have a clear end.  So, I decided to use his love for interactive books to help me teach the concept of making comments.  

The first book I made is called ‘I see Colours.’ We had been teaching him to request for coloured objects and I wanted to reinforce what he had just learned in the function of commenting. 
He absolutely loved the book!  The excitement was unreal and included lots of jumping up and down and clapping 🙂  Not only that but he learned the concept of answering the question ‘What do you see?.’  I also created materials for generalising the concept from the book into actual PECS activities.  I used the same pictures from the book (e.g. blue book, red apple etc.) and hid them in a bucket of rice.  Then we took turns reaching in and I feigned absolute surprise and excitement after each picture was pulled out as I said ‘What do you see!?’  And within that first session, he was making comments about what he was seeing!

This inspired me to make another, slightly more functional book called ‘What’s in your window?’
This book contains the vocabulary for things that a child might see when looking out the window at home or in a car.  We read the book together with lots of success however when it came to generalise this activity, it was more difficult than with the colour activity.  Looking out the window was a bit too abstract of an activity.  Next week, we are going to go on a walk so that we can actually walk up to different things outside and make comments.  

And last but not least! Fresh off the printer, I made one last interactive book called ‘I see Farm Animals’.  This one is actually for a different client who is learning about farm animals right now.  I’m not using PECS with this child however, he has been loving the interactive books as well and it’s a great of way teaching new vocabulary and also simple sentence structure!  I can’t wait to make and use this tomorrow!

These books are all available in my TpT Store.  In addition to the books, they also include generalisation ideas and portable symbol boards with the symbols from the book.  You can buy them individually or in a bundle.  The bundle is a great deal because you get one of the three books for free!  The best part is that they are super versatile.  I’ve used ‘I see Colours’ and ‘What do you see in the window?’ for teaching colours to a child with autism, practicing the pronoun ‘I’ with a child who has a language delay and for eliciting longer sentences from a little girl who has Downs Syndrome. 

Some Important Points about PECS

– It is important that a Speech and Language Therapist is involved in training the child how to use PECS
– In addition to symbols for nouns, it is important to introduce symbols for adjectives as well.  This will include symbols for colours, sizes, textures, etc.  In this way, the child can more specific requests ‘I want the blue lego’ or ‘I want a big piece of chocolate.’

– Once the child is trained in PECS, you can make multiple copies of their communication book so that they are able to communicate across all environments. 
– Continue adding pictures to the child’s communication book as their vocabulary develops

– If the child does not begin to develop speech, you may want to consider an electronic AAC device with voice output. 

PECS Phases 4 to 6 (and Fun Interactive Books!!)