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PECS and The Pyramid Approach to Education

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  • Synopsis: Published: 2012-07-30 (Rev. 2016-02-11) - Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) provides people with a cognitive disability a functional communication method. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Wendy Taormina-Weiss at Disabled World.

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"The Pyramid Approach to Education presents an emphasis on how to teach, instead of simply presenting what to teach."

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is an information exchange system. The system starts with instructing students with communication difficulties to exchange a picture of something they want with an instructor who honors their request. If the person wants something to eat for example, they give a picture to a teacher who gives them something to eat. Verbal prompts are not used, encouraging the person to spontaneously use pictures to communicate.

The PECS system continues on to teach students how to discriminate between symbols and construct simple sentences. It incorporates the teaching of commenting and additional language structures to include asking and answering questions. The system has been successful with adolescents and adults with diverse communication, physical, and cognitive issues.

PECS was developed more than twenty years ago as a type of unique, augmentative alternative training package that permits both children and adults who experience autism and other communication difficulties to begin communicating. It was used first in America, although it has received recognition on a global scale for concentrating on the initiation component of communicating. The following are some facts about the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS):

PECS Develops Early Expressive Communication Skills Using Pictures: PECS, more than using pictures for visual support, involves a functional communication system that helps people to develop communication and social skills.

PECS Concentrates on Communication that is Motivating and Relevant to the Person: People are taught to exchange pictures for the things they desire. If the person wants something to eat they present a picture to another person who gives them something to eat, for example.

PECS Teaches People to Start Spontaneous Communication: Using its exchange format, the person develops skills that are crucial to communicating with others such as approaching another person and interacting with them spontaneously, skills that are learned from the beginning.

PECS is Appropriate for People of All Ages and a Variety of Learning Difficulties: While PECS was originally developed for pre-school aged children who experience autism, it is now being used successfully with both children and adults who have a variety of communication difficulties and can be used along with other approaches such as Portage, ABA, and TEACCH.

PECS is Based Upon a Tried and Tested Model: A reason for the success of PECS is the integration of practical and theoretical perspectives from speech and language therapy and the fields of applied behavioral analysis. From a functional perspective, PECS concentrates on meaningful and important communication initiated by the person instead of dependency on prompts from others.

PECS may be Used Anywhere a Person Communicates: PECS is often used initially in a person's home or school, in outreach programs or care homes, although it can be used successfully by professionals or family members. PECS does not require equipment that is complex or expensive and it overcomes disadvantages associated with other picture-based communication systems or signing.

PECS Involves a Clear, Six-Phase Program: Starting with the use of single pictures to communicate, people are then taught to discriminate between a number of pictures and construct increasingly complex sentences. The pictures and sentence strip are stored in a communication book that is portable and attached using Velcro, making it easy to remove when the person wants to communicate.

Speech Development and PECS

The goal of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is to provide people with a communication system that is functional. An exciting discovery is that many children have developed speech after more than a year of using the system. Findings from the Delaware Autistic Program present grounds for optimism with 76% of children who use PECS gaining speech as either their primary means of communication, or augmented by a system that is picture-based. PECS has also been used successfully with people who have developed speech, although they may not be using it communicatively. Research has also confirmed that PECS does not hinder or delay speech.

The Stages of PECS

  • Phase 1: During Phase 1, people are taught to initiate communication through exchange of a single picture for an item they greatly desire.
  • Phase 2: In Phase 2, people are taught to be persistent communicators and actively seek out pictures, as well as to approach others and make requests.
  • Phase 3: Phase 3 involves teaching people to discriminate between pictures and choose the picture that represents the item they desire.
  • Phase 4: During Phase 4, people learn to use sentence structure and request the items they want such as, 'I want something to drink.'
  • Phase 5: In Phase 5, people are taught to respond to the question, 'What do you want'
  • Phase 6: While in Phase 6, people learn how to comment about things around them; not only spontaneously, but in response to questions.

Upon completion of Phase 6, people learning PECS then move on to learn how to use attributes such as shapes, colors, or sizes along with their requests. Learning these skills expands their vocabulary and ability to interact with others.

The Pyramid Approach to Education

The Pyramid Approach to Education is a type of teaching method that establishes learning environments that are effective for both children and adults with autism or developmental disabilities or severe forms of learning disabilities. It was first established in America in the year 1992 by Andy Bondy, Ph.D, and Lori Frost, M.S., CCC/SLP. The system offers solid principles for people who teach, whether it is in a classroom or at a person's home.

Most importantly, The Pyramid Approach to Education presents an emphasis on how to teach, instead of simply presenting what to teach. It is a step-by-step approach to the development of educational environments that are effective for people from every age group who experience learning and communication difficulties. The Pyramid Approach to Education is based upon a behavioral perspective, providing a foundation for both professionals and family members who want to provide the best possible environment for successful learning for their loved ones - whether it is in the person's school, home, or in their community. The system is:

  • Structural: The system's structural elements form the base of the Pyramid Approach. They create the positive setting essential to promote learning, focusing on activities that are functional, communication, reinforcers, as well as behavioral intervention plans.
  • Instructional: The instructional elements of the system involve data-based decision making, including the formatting of lessons, prompting strategies, error correction strategies, and generalization.

The Pyramid Approach to Education, when all of the elements are combined, is a system that results in success in a wide number of settings. It is a systematic program permitting educators to individualize every person's learning environment. The approach is one of the few that encourages both innovation and creativity among instructors, utilizing a wide spectrum of behavioral analysis principles. While using applied behavioral analysis, The Pyramid Approach to Education provides the foundation for positive growth in the person's environment.

Unlike programs that teach labeling before requesting, PECS training begins with teaching simple requests for concrete items. Requesting is taught first because it is likely to be learned rapidly.



Related:

  1. SAT Scores and Children with Learning Disabilities - New online SAT preparation course can help children with learning disabilities obtain good SAT scores.
  2. Successful Education of Students with Autism - Steps educators and team members can take to prepare for the inclusion of children who experience autism in classrooms.
  3. Equal Access to Technology for Students with Special Needs - Students with Special Needs Take Step Toward Equal Access to Technology.

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