Communication is the process by which knowledge is passed from one party to another through signals, signs, sentences, or actions. Effective communication is the glue that allows us to deepen our bonds with the communicating partners, thus strengthening cooperation, assisting in problem solving, and, ultimately, improving our mental and emotional health. So, in order to better contact with our partners, children, bosses, or peers, we must first learn the mode of communication that promotes greater comprehension and relationship building, as well as greater trust and faith in one another (Thompson, 2011). In developing effective communication with children, PECS act as a stepping stone to the effective communication. The child can easily learn and understand that when he/she presents a picture of glass containing juice, he/she will receive juice. It builds the basis of communication between the child and the parent or other practitioners. With time the child can be able to use cards, string them together in a chronological sense to form sentences leading to the development of effective communication in this learning set up.
The Picture Exchange Communication System is a systematic way of teaching a child how to communicate with another party by giving them a picture portraying what they need. The program was initially designed for children with autism but can also be employed by other nonverbal children. It is used to provide an alternative communication process for children who are not able to speak using their mouths. Ideally, it is not a true speech form for the children, but just an alternative means to achieve effective communication that can enable them to communicate their thoughts in the event their mouths fail to corporate.
PECS originated from Delaware Austin Program in the year 1985 by two scholars interested in improving communication, Andy Bondy, and Lori Frost. They found out that the conventional communication procedures that include speech imitation the use of sign language and picture systems, where modules based on the teacher to start social engagements and did not focus on teaching students to initiate these interactions. About their observations, they developed a functional system of communication for individuals with diversity regarding communication challenges.
The system is designed to impart knowledge on functional communication skills with the intention of enhancing effective communication. Its development has been for long, and still, it continues to be implemented in diverse settings ranging from homes, schools and to the entire community to create its awareness and significance in improving communication that enables every user to communicate what they want. The systems have no prerequisite of expensive materials since it adopts the use of picture symbols as its module.
The reason why I settled on Picture Exchange Communication System is that I wanted to develop a system that is consistent with the age of students I am dealing with. PECS’s books are not consistent, and so I thought this is an area that needed improvement. The PECS adopted in our systems are not very consistent, and that means it is not easy to improve the understanding of the students. The students in the setting I am adopting need PECS that are basic for their everyday operation, for example, those that portray happiness, sadness, food images, toilet picture those that portray sleep. In most cases, the basics mentioned above have been used with these students before joining our setting which is a special needs school and residential home.
Students in the system sometimes use Makaton as their primary means of communication. Makaton is a communication method that uses signs and symbols and in most cases used as a means of communication for those who have learning difficulties. It has international recognition and can be used more than 40 countries of the world. It is portrayed as a straightforward language that uses sample day to day words which employs the use of speech, gesture, body language, facial expression and words to improve communication.
It was first developed by identification of the words that are frequently applied in daily conversations. After that, the signs from the British Sign Language got matched to the words to help people to speak and use sign at the same time. The users of Makaton first are encouraged to communicate by the use of signs but the as the link is developed with time between the words and the sign, these signs can be dropped, and then the speech takes over.
The Makaton symbols support the written words just in the same manner signs augment speech. Most of its symbols are in black and white with pictures explaining the meaning of words. It has helped adults and also children who do not have the ability to read and write to have their messages regarding their stories or shopping list in the written symbols. So the system is mostly used by the adults and children who have difficulties with learning, so they use it as their primary means of developing communication. The major demerit of Makaton is that everyone around the students will need to learn how they are used, that is to say, teachers, parents, and professionals.
The staff in our system are not fluent in Makaton, and unfortunately, they do not make an effort to learn it. There are not enough training provisions for it in our setting, and therefore the best communication system for this particular group of individual is the picture exchange communication system that will benefit both the staff and the pupils involved. The training for PECS is also available in my setting and is considerably cheaper as compared to Makaton.
Regular training will help both the staff and the pupils. They will be keeping updated with the emerging needs of individual pupil since they may be having different learning rates. The students will move from not only learning the basics of life but also the complex matters of life through regular training programs highlighted in the system.
Parents will be informed about the changes in our training programs through sending the emails about the changes, organizing coffee mornings with the parents with the compound to discuss the changes and their potential implications to improving the learning of students. The notice boards will be used as publicity avenues to inform the parents of such arrangements and how the training programs about PECS will be improved.
For the pupils of distinct communication, users will be offered with the one on one communication sessions. The benefits that will be achieved out of taking part in the PECS training. The programs will be conducted during INSET days, or an arrangement can be made with the staff so that the training be scheduled on specific days so that they can be able to complete their training in the picture exchange communication system.
Phases of PECS Training
Phase one entails how to communicate
In this phase, the child will be able to learn that if they give someone a picture, they will likely receive what they want in exchange. It means one adult will be just right in front of the child holding a picture of what the child wants and another adult just behind the child to guide the hands of the child in helping him/her to pick the picture and offer it to the first adult. It means that this program pays attention to instructions and it is definite.
Every adult in the setup or the above situations has a vital role in the program to ensure the training objective is achieved by him playing his assigned role. So for the first phase, the child has got only a single picture to pick. He has no collection of pictures to select. This phase is meant to grill the child on practicing the knowledge of handing the picture and “in exchange, he gets what he wants” (Petrie, 2011).
Phase two, distance and persistence
In phase two the child will be is being taught to consistent with the attempts to make a strong communication. In some cases, the picture should be taken away from the child, and he has to make efforts on getting it. In another instance, the set up will compose a picture in front of the child, but the person holding what the child needs walks away. This is to make the child persistent and learn the reality of making efforts to communicate instead of giving up.
Phase three, Picture Discrimination.
In this phase in my program, the pupil will have two pictures that he can choose from. He is tasked with the responsibility to choose one from the picture. He must get the picture he needs and then presents it to the adult. In most cases, the second picture will be of that which he does not want and therefore do not need to look at both pictures. This stage also describes the different roles for every adult and explicitly explains what needs to be done by them to improve the learning of the child in picking the right picture (Malhotra et al., 2010).
Phase four, sentence structure
At this phase, this program now teaches the child to formulate a simple sentence. The choices are now put in front of a notepad containing Velcro alongside it with the image saying “I want.” Also, another strip that seems to be detaching from the book. Now this child is now required to put the “I want” picture on that strip alongside the picture containing what they want.
Now when the child picks and hands the strip to the adult, the child is the helped to figure out the picture as they are being said loud by the adult (Malhotra et al., 2010).. At this point in my research, I have witnessed many children with autism begin to communicate the message with the adult. It might not be the case for all children definitely, but in my experience, I have witnessed children being successful at communicating alongside with the adult.
Attributions and language expansion may not necessarily be a phase, but here the child can be trained on how to use adjectives and more words so that the child can expand his sentence more than in phase four. Adjectives are very key in developing a suitable sense of communication. The adult can monitor the learning of the child and application of the knowledge in forming more sentences.
Phase 5, answering question
Here the child is taught to answer the question of “what do you want” employing the PECS notebook and pictures. For those children that I engaged in using PECS, I did not experience one get these far. In most cases, the child makes the effort of talking, or there is need to adopt a different approach to the AAC system, for instance, speech output devices, and has experienced success with that. But still, we can continue with the program Malhotra et al., 2010).
Phase six, commenting
It teaches the child to be able to comment in response to any question. For instance, the instructor can ask the child “what do you see?” and in return, the child replies with “I see a mango.” It is the last phase of the training program that aids the communicator to develop a commenting behavior as opposed to prior stages that emphasized requesting behavior of the young communicator.
The pictures being adopted in this training program will be photographs, colored or even black and white line drawings or to some extent, we can use tangible symbols where need be. Mayor-Jason is the commonly used symbols, always referred to as PCS being used as a stimulus material but in this program, they are not necessary picture resource. My selection of the picture representation will be dependent on the individual wants of the learners.
The necessity of following the training protocol
PECS’s training is based on implementing the above-highlighted strategies to fulfill the intentions of this program. “It can take a while to complete, but through patience, huge strides can be made” (Kearney, 2007). It is normal that people who use PECS to create awareness are running in the same procedure as I have described, but they may employ the strategy of exchanging pictures but not necessarily adopt the outlined phases of PECS’s procedures.
In most cases, people may tend to run the program without employing the use of a facilitator in the prior stages, but in my case, I have adopted the use of a facilitator to guide the young communicator. But their strategy cannot be perceived as representing the PECS training programming even though it can be effective with some individuals. In my program, I have adopted the use of all the six phases to achieve the training requirements.
Matching skills is an asset for the program
In the first two phases of the training, the child only has a single picture meaning there is no necessity of looking at the picture symbols. In most cases, some children fail in phase three because they did not gain the knowledge to look at the picture based on the exchanged card and cannot match a given picture symbol card with the real image that is under study. In the third phase, the child can only get the desired object only if he exchanges the right card for the particular object.
Procedures to help the child override the problem is there though some of these problems can be avoided. My recommendation is that we need to begin with developing the matching skills as a required academic activity when the child is in phase 1 and 2. Comprehensive training in phase 1 and 2 makes phase 3 to be relatively easy to fulfill.
The benefits of PECS’s training
Personally, I have trained many students and developed their communication awareness. It is mainly important for those who are introverts that are they do not fancy interacting with anyone. It enables kids to initiate communication with presenting them with a picture. By adopting PECS, one can take care who has less interest in other members of the society and giving them the platform where they can initiate a gradual interaction. It is a big step for a child with autism or other delays in his development of being uninterested in communicating. In most results, these children can see the power of communication, and they are trying other communication forms.
Communication is a social instrument that humans use to initiate interaction with one another and can be defined as an act of sending information about one’s thoughts, opinions or feelings to a receiver who decodes the information and responds. We communicate so that we can know more about each other’s emotions so that we can alter information to convince them to understand our points of view so that relations can be built. The most important form of communication is interpersonal communication.
It is a type of communication that cannot be avoided by people, and the extent of our social relations depend on our abilities to initiate a conversation with other members of the society. It is a procedure through which we can express our thoughts and what we feel. The skills are learned behaviors that we can improve by practicing, acquiring knowledge, getting a reflection of our feedback.
This type of communication is usually suitable for a face to face communication where two or more people get involved for instance i8n the case of our PECS training. In PECS’s training, people there are series of communication models, and with the passing years, the field of communication still evolves. The need to adapt interpersonal communication for this program will enable the trainers to learn about the cultural mix and diversity of the pupils as well as their parents.
Communication history can be dated back from pre-history with major changes taking place in technological communication advances in mass media and tools of inscription that has evolved due to shifts in the socioeconomic and legal political scope of the power systems. Among the theories are the classical rhetoric theories, semiotic theory, phenomenological tradition, cybernetic tradition, Social psychology, sociocultural communication theory, and critical tradition theory (Kockelman, 2013).
The classical rhetoric theory propagates that we can study and cultivate communication as a practical art of disclosing information (Kockelman, 2013). The theory promotes interpersonal, cross cultural and organizational communication that aids in the communication practices and field like knowing children with autism as having a diverse background and developing ways through which a best PECS training can be administered. The theory can be used in situations where there is movement involved, instructions are needed or to entice the child for choosing the picture of what he needs.
Semiotic theory views communication as a process that heavily relies on signs symbols. PECS relies on signs and symbols to initiate communication between two persons. This theory acknowledges that communication barriers exist where an understanding of signs and symbols cannot be precisely drawn to their meaning without systematic guidance (Kockelman, 2013). The theory is closely related the careful analysis of educational research and cultural anthropology meaning we do not exist as independent beings but we need each other for interaction by using signs for interaction.
Phenomenological theory views communication as the experience of the communicating parties and how their experience compares to others. The major challenge of this is the existence of the gap between the viewpoints of the subjects (Kockelman, 2013). It looks to the authenticity and our ways of experiencing self and other. It lies majorly in our common relations with other members of the training group. The authentic dialogue requires the trainers to offer self-expression and accept the diversity of the pupils in PECS’s training.
Reasons for failures in communication
Timing. In most cases, the message is gotten right, but it is delivered at a wrong time and in a wrong manner that may not be so receptive to the other person. Also rushing an idea that needs proper consideration, for instance, rushing through the training program for the pupils without paying keen attention to their challenges. Another reason is assuming that the people we communicate with are at the same level as us. So it is necessary to take the time to get the relevant information regarding the other party.
A belief that one style suits all. Different people have different needs and preferences. Some people prefer the use of data while others may require pictures for presentations. The more important the message needs to be is the more important it should be tuned because after all, we communicate to make an impact on people’s lives. Failure to recognize other people’s values and to put what you believe in ahead first is also a reason that can lead to communication failure.
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