09 Mar Visual communication support for autistic children
Visual support communication means that a parent or teacher of an autistic child uses a picture or other visual aids to communicate. The PECS (picture exchange communication system) is a unique alternative/augmentative communication system developed in the USA in 1985. Since then, PECS has successfully been implemented worldwide, with thousands of learners of all ages who have various cognitive, physical and communication challenges.
Whilst PECS refers to a specific method – visual support basically means any visual support that is given to a child with autism. This can include photographs, drawing, objects, sketches, written words etc.
Research has proven that good visual support systems work well to communicate – not just from a parent or teacher to child perspective but also later these types of systems can help a child communicate better with others.
When you research the PECS system you will see – six phases of learning to communicate using pictures:
- Phase 1 – how to communicate is the phase where individuals learn to exchange single picture for items or activities they really want.
- Phase 2 – is distance and persistence during this phase children learn to generalize these new skills by using PECS in different places, with different people and across distances. The child is also taught to be more persistent communicators.
- Phase 3 – picture discrimination is when the child learns to select from two or more picture to ask for their favorite things.
- Phase 4 – sentence structure is a stage when the child learns to construct simple sentences on a detachable sentence strip using “I want” picture followed by a picture of the item being requested.
- Phase 5 – attributes & language expansion is when the child learns to expand their sentences by adding adjectives, verbs, and prepositions
- Phase 6 – responsive requesting & commenting is when the child learns to not just ask for things but also how to answer questions using the PECS system. They are taught to comment in response to questions like: what do you see? What do you hear? What is it? The child will then also learn to make up sentences starting with I see…. I hear…. I feel …. etc
When considering that the main symptoms of autism spectrum disorder are challenges interacting socially, using language, and having limited interests or repetitive behaviors then we can see how visual supports and the PECS system can help our children integrate better. It is proven that the implementation of a visual support system from a young age support all three areas of development.