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Do children with autism use the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to make spontaneous requests?

Farrer, Amy (2010) Do children with autism use the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to make spontaneous requests? University of Southampton, School of Psychology, Doctoral Thesis , 96pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)


This review examines the research on the Picture Exchange Communication System
(PECS), which has become a popular communication strategy for children with
autism and other communication disorders. A growing body of research has shown
that the system is a promising mode of communication. There is, however, a paucity
of research that examines the conditions under which the PECS is used, specifically
whether children use the PECS to make spontaneous requests. A lack of agreement
currently exists over the definition of the term ‘spontaneity’ and so researchers of the
PECS who do report instances of spontaneity may be basing the judgment on
different patterns of behaviour. Skinner’s (1957) analysis of verbal behaviour and the
continuum model of spontaneity (Carter, 2002,2003a; Carter & Hotchkis, 2002;
Chiang & Carter, 2008) can be used to understand the development of self-initiated
requesting behaviour. Both frameworks state that requests can only be considered as
fully spontaneous if they occur without prompts from another person and when the
desired item is not in sight. There is a lack of research that examines whether
children are able to use the PECS to make requests under these conditions.
Furthermore, this literature review shows that some children may be unable to use the
PECS to request items not in sight because of the teaching conditions used and/or
because the reinforcement practices of the community may be inefficient, and,
therefore, ways of promoting spontaneity are considered.

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Published date: May 2010
Additional Information: The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is an augmentative communication system often used for children with autism; however, few studies have specifically examined whether children with autism use the system to make ‘spontaneous’ requests. Of the studies that have reported instances of ‘spontaneity’, most fail to make use of Skinner’s (1957) analysis of verbal behaviour when defining spontaneity by not taking into account the presence of the requested item. The current study addresses this issue using a single case study design with two children with autism who had both mastered phase III of the PECS. An assessment procedure was developed to determine whether the children would use the system to emit spontaneous requests (e.g., without verbal and physical prompts and without the item being in sight). Results demonstrated that one of the participants failed to use the PECS to emit requests for items out of sight and so he received a teaching phase, which used rolling time delay and prompt fade procedures. This appeared to be effective in freeing the child’s requests from the stimulus control of the presence of the item and thereby promoting spontaneity. The study also examined whether the direct presentation of the PECS pictures and/or folder affected the children’s use of the PECS as this may impede levels of spontaneity. It was found that the children’s use of the PECS at home was not dependent on the direct presentation of the PECS materials; however, the children were also observed in school and it seemed that their use of the PECS in this context was associated with the teacher’s presentation of the PECS materials.
Organisations: University of Southampton


Local EPrints ID: 171963
PURE UUID: f5c0a944-4a3e-4294-9609-bcdc068d5f1e

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Date deposited: 24 Jan 2011 14:49
Last modified: 18 Jul 2017 12:14

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Author: Amy Farrer
Thesis advisor: Robert Remington

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