Extra bits between Phase II and III
Before moving on to Phase III, I thought it would be useful to briefly discuss some of the additional skills that can be taught that will benefit the student in using PECS.
This is essentially a trick to encourage spontaneity. Staff members (or family members of course) can take a toy or food that they know the individual really likes and has previous communicated for with PECS and stand there sharing the toy/food. Perhaps a bowl of crisps or handing back and forth an interactive toy. The student may approach the group to try and get the item or pull on one of the adults to indicate they want some. A physical prompter can then prompt them to get their PECS card from their PECS book and ask for it.
Doing this sort of thing semi-frequently helps to build up the idea that if someone has something the individual thinks they would like – they can ask for it using their PECS. At this stage of early communication, it is important to only have items out that you are happy to and able to give to the individual because saying “No” when first teaching this could damage self-esteem and self-confidence.
Flicking through the book
Once an individual’s vocabulary increases to multiple PECS cards, it will not be possible to store them all on the front of the PECS book. This is why it is important to teach a student early on that sometimes looking through the book is required. Do this by just having the one card anywhere in the book and let the student see you return the PECS card to a different page. If they do not search for the PECS card then a physical prompter can assist them or a single communication partner can give a prompt by lifting the pages of the PECS book so the card is visible to the student. These prompts should be faded over time, and the PECS card should intermittently be put inside the book on different pages.
Hanging the book
Sometimes PECS books are best placed to be hung on pegs or desks, putting them at a different angle to the way they were when the student first learnt to use PECS. This might seem a minor detail to us, but could be confusing for an autistic student and so once Phase II is secure, the PECS book could be hung on the back of chairs or on a peg near the student, with the PECS card on the front of the book. The exchange will occur like every other PECS exchange, but the student may need some prompting to explore the now sideways book. After this has been mastered, moving the PECS card inside the book can also be done.
Carrying the book
Taking ownership of the book is very important – an adult cannot and should not be relied upon to carry the book around so the student should be introduced to carrying their own book as early as possible. The easiest way I have found is to get a should strap that can be attached to the PECS book, and then teaching and encouraging the student to put the PECS book over their shoulder when they transition from place to place. This is preferable to holding it in their hands as it frees their hands up to be used during transition. However, some students do not like wearing it on their shoulders and may find it better to carry the strap in one hand, or may prefer putting the book into a backpack and wearing that instead.
Going out of the room
There may be occasions where the PECS book has been left in another room – perhaps more common in the home or residential settings than educational ones but the skill should be generalised. In this instance we want to be prepared by teaching the student to go out of the room, get their PECS book and bring it back with them to make an exchange. This requires a slightly different approach for the student because rather than bringing just a PECS card to you, they are bringing the whole book back into the room you are in and then making the exchange as normal. A physical prompter may be required for this to begin with, and the book should be moved in small increments to ensure the student is successful. You may start with the PECS book (or the person to exchange with) in the doorway, then half out of the door, then just outside the door, and then slowly increase the distance until it is within the second room.
Until next time.
Disclaimer: The opinions and information provided in this post are my own, and based on personal, educational, and work-based experience. They do not reflect the opinions of any of the authors of the content referenced in this post. I am not affiliated or supported by any organisation, and this is meant to be an educational series of posts. The information posted here is not a substitute for advice and information provided by your own GP, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or other professional in the field of autism, and should not be taken as such.