Learning to respond to ‘What do you want’ with PECS

Picture Exchange Communication System

If you don’t know what the Picture Exchange Communication System® is then start with my post about phase one.  For existing users in this post I am going to look at stage 5 – Responsive requesting

What is phase 5 of PECS?

The objective of phase 5 of the Picture Exchange Communication System is for the student to “spontaneously request a variety of items and answers the question ‘what do you want’”. In this phase the student learns responsive requesting. They learn to respond to the question ‘what do you want’

The ultimate goal is to produce spontaneous requesting and commenting but as that is difficult we begin with responsive requesting.

Puzzles and autism
PECS shape requesting

Implementing PECS phase 5

Once the child / student has mastered phases 1-4 it is time to introduce phase 5.  It is important as always to maintain the previous phases (requesting, distance & persistence, discrimination and sentence structure). They are all equally important as we move on through the phases. 

The mistake I have made when implementing phase 5 is forgetting about spontaneous requesting. My eldest has become very reliant on the question / cue rather than making his own requests. It is really important to keep in mind that we want our kids to be able to respond to questions as well as make requests on their own initiative. 

You teach responding to the question ‘what do you want’ by using prompts which are then phased out. You will begin by asking the child ‘what do you want’ whilst pointing to the ‘I want’ card.  As the child has already learnt to request items they want in previous phases they should then make the request – assuming you have a suitably motivating items. If not you can use a physical prompt.

PECS book with TV show symbols
TV show PECS cards on communication book

Remove the prompts gradually

Initially there will be just a 1 second delay between you asking the question and your prompt or pointing to the ‘I want’ symbol.  Gradually increase the delay until the prompt is not needed. 

You also need to generalise the question to ensure they will not be reliant on the exact phrase ‘what do you want’ other examples include but are not limited to:

  • what would you like
  • what do you need
  • what can I get you
  • what is your choice

Try to balance between opportunities for spontaneous and asked responses I know all too well how easy it can be to get stuck reliant on prompts / questions. 

Picture Exchange Communication System
PECS Cards

Once your child as mastered phase 5 you can move onto phase 6 commenting with PECS.

I highly recommend going on the PECS Level 1 training which is now available virtually.

pecs phase 5
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1 Comment

  1. 24th February 2021 / 10:16 pm

    The standard PECS cards didn’t work for my son, but when we used actual photos of things he was much more interested. For anyone with a child who doesn’t engage with PECS at first, it is well worth trying actually photos of their own items.

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