If you don’t know what the Picture Exchange Communication System®/PECS® is then check out my post on phase one. In this post we will look at PECS phase 2: Distance and Persistence. For us this phase was relatively easy particularly in comparison to phase 1 which was a bit of a struggle at first.
PECS Phase 2: Distance and Persistence
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 the new skill.
Travelling and getting your attention is something that will only be done if they want something enough so make sure the item they need to ask for is very 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.
Travelling / Distance
If you start off 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 had done for phase 1. You will probably need to do some hand over hand prompting to help the child pull off the card. My son got this bit straight away which was lovely.
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 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!
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 autistic 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 then use a second person to do the physical prompting. 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, look at you etc.
Again to get the child to really want the item make sure you are using motivating reinforcers. For phase two it depends on the child as to how quickly they will pick up these skills.
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.
One day 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 mastered you can move onto phase 3 picture discrimination.
If you want to learn more about PECS and how to implement it I really recommend going on one of the courses run by PECS.
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