PECS Phase 2: Distance and Persistence

PECS Phase 2: Distance and Persistence

If you don’t know what the Picture Exchange Communication System®/PECS® is then check out my post on phase one first.

In this post I will look at how to move onto PECS phase 2: Distance and Persistence.  For us this phase was relatively easy to implement, particularly in comparison to phase 1.

What is PECS Phase 2

The objective for phase 2 as set out by The Picture Exchange Communication System Training Manual (available from Pyramid Education) is:

The student goes to his / her communication book, pulls the picture off, goes to the trainer, gets the trainer’s attention, and releases the picture into the trainers hand.

The child should have already mastered the ability to pick up a picture, hand it to the person and release it into their hand in phase one.  If this is not the case go back to phase one until this is mastered.

In phase one we put the PECS cards out in front of the child for phase two we want the child to travel to the card as well as the person they want to communicate with.  As with any new skill the child will need support and prompting (just like phase 1) until they understand what they are doing.

Travelling to make a request

Getting your child’s attention and them to travel to make a request will only happen if they want something enough so make sure the item they need to ask for is motivating to them. As with the first phase just use one picture at a time (learning to make a choice comes later).  If you don’t have a communication book yet you can just use a piece of card with some Velcro strips on.  We want the child to get used to pulling the picture off the Velcro.

PECS Phase 2: Distance and Persistence

If you start off by letting the child play with or have a bit of the item you are going to be using.  Then put the relevant PECS card out on the board or book and then start to entice the child with the item as you have done for phase 1.  You will probably need to do some hand over hand prompting to help the child pull off the card. 

If the item is working and the child is continuing to request keep moving the book / board further away.  You want to increase the distance that the child has to travel to get the card.  Ideally you will place the book / card in the same place and the person they need to request from will be moving.  The idea is that the child will get used to going to their book to get the card themselves.

As the child gets better at this skill you can increase the distance and make it harder. Maybe they have to navigate around a table.  Some children will get this quickly others will take time.  It is worth spending time on this skill, as you increase the distance you will find there are more opportunities for the child to be distracted.  I remember many times my son would excitedly run for his card and drop it on his way back to me and go off to do something else!

motivating toys for autistic toddlers

Getting Attention /Persistence

I was out with my niece at the weekend and I was talking to a friend. Whilst I was talking my 4 year old niece was hanging on my arm shouting ‘auntie Jade’ over and over until I looked at her.  Typically developing children are usually naturally very good at gaining our attention and like my niece naturally persistent.  This is the complete opposite to my eldest son. He needs to really want something before he will try and get my attention.  Even when he does try to get my attention he probably wont try more than once or persist in anyway. This is why it can be a really important skill to teach. 

If you can use a second person to do the physical prompting it will be helpful.  If the communication partner turns away then the child needs to gain their attention. To start with make it easy, as soon as the child is trying to hand you the card respond.  Then over time you will make this harder with the child needing to tap you on the arm etc.

Again to get the child to really want the item, make sure you are using motivating reinforcers.  For phase 2 it depends on the child as to how quickly they will pick up these skills.

PECs cards

Mastering Phase 2

Distance and persistence are skills that the child will need to continually use so will need ongoing work / practice.  However these are skills that will be extremely valuable in life so well worth the work now.

I went to the toilet, as I was in the bathroom my son was on the other side of the door trying to get in.  A moment later a PECS card (I cant remember which one it was) came sliding through under the door.  That was the moment I knew my son had really mastered distance and persistence.

Once distance and persistence is working well you can move onto phase 3 picture discrimination.

How are you getting on with phase 2?

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  1. 26th November 2018 / 5:45 pm

    It’s so useful to have PECS broken down like this. It’s such a good mechanism – we really used it. Thanks for linking to #spectrumsunday and hope to see you again next week.

  2. Rose
    2nd March 2021 / 11:00 am

    Thank you, my child attends a centre where they have started to use pecs and this was a useful addition to their support which of course is distanced at the moment. Very clear and gave me understanding behind the steps
    We are at stage 2 and my child will search out and travel to his pecs photo of our tv remote now (as he used to hand us the physical remote constantly we knew this was motivating) and his favourite drink orange smoothie

    • admin
      2nd March 2021 / 11:03 am

      Yes the TV remote is always a good motivator. My youngest is great at travelling all round the house to find me when he wants his favourite TV show on. I find distance and persistence is much easier when they really want something.

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