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In a study by Bondy (2001) is was found that picture exchange communication system is a communication system that is augmentative and alternative and is used mainly to help in communication for those children who have autistic disorders and other needs that are special. The goals of the system is to establish a means of communication that the learners can easily relate with where the exchange of pictures spiced up by verbalization leads to the development of speech in the autistic children.
The system entails creating pictures that the children can easily associate with from the favourite objects of the child and the system begins with one picture as it expands slowly. In a study by Stanton (2004) the exchange of the images is found to be very essential because it lays the base for the development of the verbal skills of a child. The use of verbalization to communicate is enhanced by the use of the PECs.
According to Bondy (2001) the protocol that is used in PECS’s training is based on skinners theory of behaviour and the systematic functional verbal operant using strategies that prompt and reinforce the process of teaching and acquisition of speech by the learner. This leads to the development of independent process of communication. Howlin et al (2002) conclude that prompt dependency in this case is avoided by the reduced use of verbal prompts which helps in the construction of the speech initiation.
PECs begins by use of a picture of an item that is desirable to the learner with a teacher or a communicative partner. When the students acquire the spontaneous skill of asking for that desired object, the PECs system starts teaching discriminative skills among symbols that leads to proper construction of services. Then the students are taught to respond to questions or to make declaratives and imperative sentences.
In the study (Bondy, 2001) the system was found to be very flexible because it can be used with a wide range of ages like the young preschoolers, the teenagers and even adults who may have a variety of cognitive and communicative difficulties.
Though there may be no supporting evidence to show how it improves communication, experts say that it is a very reliable method of helping the people with speech disabilities. According to Tencheon (2001) PECs is better than the simple picture based communication, though it is more expensive than the latter.
In the study (Tien, 2008) the PECs was found to provide the learner with a method of learning that is independent and spontaneous, making the process very lean and smooth. Schwartz et al (1998) concluded that the PECs can also decrease mannerisms in an individual that are influenced by frustrations thus increasing the avenue for learning and interacting with others. In the process, it tends to build the spoken language skills of and individual.
In the study by Stanton (2004) it was found that through PECs, a child or any other subject of the system will be able to turn an interior desire into an exterior reward, and these rewards provide ample reinforcements especially to the children with autism than any other form of social reward. This is especially so during the initial phases of the communicative process.
However, it may be difficult for the children to form words if the rewards are too difficult to receive and the intended point of communication might be missed. In a study (Norwood, 2000) it was found that this can result in the backfiring of the whole system if the child involved in the remedial process starts throwing tantrums and getting involved in other behaviours that are not desirable. The point made here is that the undesirable behaviours may subside as long as the benefits of the process are tangible enough.
In a study by Palmer (2000) for children with autism, it was found that apart from improving speech skills, the system also helps them in social interactions because the child will be put in a position where he or she will approach the partner he or she is supposed to communicate with and the method of approach is less intimidating than the ordinary approach methods that normally scare such students away.
There are some research studies, though not empirically proven that have tried to assert the usefulness of the system. According to Christy (2002) a study involving 18 pre school autistic children who had problems of language delay, with PECs being generalized across communicative environments and partners.
It was indicated that all the children managed to use PECs to communicate during all their school days and not only when they were in sessions of training. Moreover, half of the students had started using natural media of communication, abandoning PECS After a year. According to Soprowska (2005) another more encompassing study of groups of children showed that the increased application of PECs would occur when the adults who were trained in the use of the method were in the class.
Though there were indications in the use of PECs and improved speech, there was no indication of the improvement in the linguistic skills of the child thus creating a generalization that the method can only be used as speech therapy and not for language acquisition. In a study by Frost (2002) it was also found that the use of PECs diminished in the absence of the trained adults thus bringing an indication of what was the motivating factor behind the increased use of PECs.
In the book by Ganz ( 2004) comparing PECS with another similar method called the responsive education and milieu training in pre-linguistics showed that, the autistic children improved in the utilization of their verbal skills more than the ones who used the latter system.
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In the book by Bondy (1994) it is indicated that this is enough evidence that supports the use of PECs as a communication development tool for children with autism. In a study by Mirenda (2001) it was found that these are tangible evidences to prove that PECs is harmful to the subjects that use it, though there are varied concerns from parents that their children might not be able to withdraw from the dependence on the method and the speech developed is not natural.
Research does not support this because it is evident that PECs leads to the development of speech skills faster in children with autism compared to those that are not trained or those that have been trained using the milieu method. The materials that are used in PECs are not expensive and some of the materials can be improvised.
A 3 ring binder can be used for the storage of PECs materials while a Velcro strip that is attached to the front cover of the binder can be used to hold the picture. According to Norwood (2000) the pictures can be manually drawn or cut from the existing literature. However, there are more expensive alternatives where the PECs binding clips can be purchased but the pictures will still be searched by the PECs trainer. The expertise that is involved in the training of PECs is the one that is relatively expensive.
Merits and Demerits
In a study (Norwood, 2000) it was found that there are some advantages of using PECs in speech therapy. Howlin et al. (2007) conclude that one of the biggest advantages of the PECS model is that it mainly relies on the child and not the communicative partner of the child, the one who instructs and prompts the child.
In a study (Mirenda, 2001) explain that this is because PECs teaches the learner to make an initiative of prompting the communication meaning that the child is always in control of the process which helps in building confidence and self esteem that helps in the quick development of speech skills.
According to Mirenda (2001) the other advantage is that the program does not require prerequisite linguistic and physical skills unlike the conventional speech therapy programs that would require the learner to have skills like facial orientation and eye contact before the program could start working.
It does not begin with training the child to respond to verbal prompts unlike the conventional methods of speech therapy. The PECs focuses on the approach that is social with a specific emphasis on pragmatics. In a study by Stanton (2004) it was found that the system establishes a mode of communication that the learners can easily connect with where the exchange of pictures together with verbalization leads to the development of speech in the children with autism.
The use of pictures that the children can easily associate with from the favourite objects of the child acts as a motivating factor that draws the child towards the teaching process. The exchange of the images is very essential because it lays the base for the development of the verbal skills of a child. In the book by Ganz (2004) the use of verbalization to communicate is enhanced by the use of the PECs.
According to Bondy (2001) the theory that is used in PECS’s training is behavioural in nature meaning that apart from teaching speech skills in children, it can also be used as a form of behaviour therapy to rectify some of the behaviours that the autistic children have like throwing tantrums and being anti social. Prompt dependency in this case is avoided by the reduced use of verbal prompts which helps in the construction of the speech initiation.
In a study (Bondy, 2001) found that PECs makes use of a picture of an item that is desirable to the learner with a teacher or a communicative partner. When the students acquire the spontaneous skill of asking for that desired object, the PECs system starts teaching discriminative skills among symbols that leads to proper construction of services. However, there are some disadvantages of the system though they cannot override the advantages.
According to Mirenda (2001) one of the demerits is that most parents are still not receptive to the program and are very resistant to the non verbal alternative form of speech therapy in children with autism. In a book by Yoder (2006) the second demerit is that the program may not be effective without the application of some computerized programs like the board marker program which is costly.
Tencheon et al (2001) conclude that the program cannot remain static and it needs to keep on being changed as the needs of the learner changes meaning that it is a continuous process of modifications that may consume a lot of time, energy and resources. The only thing that needs to be done is to raise awareness to the parents on the wide range of benefits that this system can have on their children by exposing them to data obtained from research studies
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