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Picture exchange systems have been gaining prominence across the country, fueled by success, especially with our population with autism, and led by Lori Frost and Andrew Bondy with their book, The Picture Exchange System, Training Manual " (1994). With this system nonverbal children, with various disabilities, have learned to make requests and to construct simple sentences on sentence strips using pictures. Behavior disruptions have decreased and some children have begun to speak, spurred by a deeper understanding of our language system, taught through the use of concrete pictures. However, professionals are now struggling with the question, "Where do we go from here?"
Many children using these systems are at a point in their training when they need to go beyond simply communicating basic wants and rote sentences. They need to learn that language is a tool that has many purposes, such as directing peoples action, describing, asking for more information, commenting, conversing, explaining, etc. They need to develop a deeper understanding of language so that they can own it, manipulate it, and generate messages that are uniquely theirs. In essence, our children who are using picture communication systems need to be able to do the same kinds of things with language that verbal children do.
To make this happen, staff who are responsible for training these children need a clear structured step-by-step long range plan to develop these skills that can be followed consistently through class and staff changes that inevitably happen throughout a child's educational career. And of course, the most important, magic ingredient that will determine the success of this or any program, is the need for all of it to be quick and easy for staff and motivating to the student. All these ingredients are available in a book entitled, "Quick and Easy Ideas and Materials to take Picture Communication Beyond Choice Making. Teaching functional language and and Literacy with Pictures" (2000) by Carolyn Rouse and Katera. Included in the book are: Long range communication skills check sheet so smooth progress can be maintained over time, matching sample IEP goals and benchmarks, fun activities to teach most language skills targeted materials provided for each activity to minimize time needed for lesson preparation picture symbols redesigned to capitalize on visual cues to teach an understanding of grammar structures such as pronouns, is/are etc. Pre primer and primer level Dolch word reading symbols (3 sets: Large word/large picture, large word/small picture, large word) so that pictures can be systematically faded to their orthographic representation.
The check sheet, or plan is modeled after Brown's work in his book, "First Language" (1971) looking at how children develop speech and is called the "Quick and Easy Developmental Language System" QEDLS (rhymes with beetles) for short. Here it is in outline form. Looking at the QEDLS outline, children are first taught to use pictures for a few different purposes besides naming such as: to express requests, actions, possession, location, negation, rejection, descriptors and recurrence. Language, including grammar, develops through refining, expanding, modifying, exploring and linking the basic sentence types needed to express more and more things. That is why it is important for the child to learn to move beyond choice making and basic rote sentences to learning how to use language for these basic purposes. Children learn words because they need them. For example, they learn "cookie" because they want specifically that item.
To follow this model, situations should be engineered where children need to use the specific picture or language concept we wish to teach in order to get what they want. This isn't a new idea, it's been used in naturalistic teaching, the engineered classroom and others. What has been missing is the step by step developmental approach to picture language training with activities to facilitate using pictures for varied purposes. Sometimes that's a little difficult to see when the child is using a picture exchange system instead of speech. For example, how would you teach the concept of "possession" with pictures? "My" or "mine" is probably the first pronoun verbal children learn to use. To exchange pictures of "mine" to argue over the possession of a toy seems nonsensical because both children are trying to retain possession of the toy.
The best way to structure an activity to teach this skill is to to have the children tap a picture of themselves ( representing "mine") velcroed on their shirt to claim possession. This allows them to retain their grip on the item with one hand while claiming the item with the other. (An argument moderator is also an important part of this activity.Teaching the child to combine 2, 3 or more pictures to express various sentence types such as noun/verb, noun/location or noun/adjective etc. without teaching them each specific rote sentence type is also tricky. Teaching children to combine language concepts through activities that create the need to express specific sentence types helps them to understand why longer and longer utterances are needed. For example, creating the need to express "specifically" where a "specific" item is "specifically" located, the child learns how to construct the noun/location sentence type along with why those words are needed. Learning why words teaches them the flexibility needed to generate novel messages for novel situations, instead of always having to draw on a closed set of specific rote sentences that may or may not meet the needs of the situation.
By teaching language in this way, children have the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of language so that they can own it, manipulate it, and generate messages that are uniquely theirs. To demonstrate what we mean, here is an example of how to teach the child to construct a 2 picture sentence to direct someone to do something (noun/action). Verb Dice Game Directions: Take 2 boxes and attach bits of female (soft sided) velcro on all sides.On one box put a picture of each of the children playing the game on the sides of the box. On the other box put verb pictures on each side. Begin using pictures the child already knows. Then add new verbs one at a time as you feel the child can handle it. Each child should also have their own personal sentence strip. Each child should take a turn rolling the dice (boxes). They must pull off the two pictures (child + verb) that land on top of the boxes (die) and put them on their sentence strip. They should then give the sentence strip to the child whose picture appears on the strip. Anyone verbal in the game, preferably the person with the sentence strip, should "read" the strip and the indicated person should perform the indicated action.
This activity cues the child to use two pictures on their sentence strip through situational cues (two boxes). If a picture is left off the strip, the game will break down because we won't know who should do the action or what they should do. The situation creates the need to use two pictures. One picture will not do. From the beginning language usage is based on need. Research has shown that the most frequently occurring words in conversational speech are the words that provide structure to the language system; words such as, "is", "a", "to", "in" etc. This is why teaching nonverbal children the meaning of grammar is so important. However teaching grammatical forms can be difficult because they don't have a concrete one to one meaning that can be easily understood. For example, how would you design a picture of "you" to demonstrate that it can mean anyone but yourself, or when to use "he" versus "she". To help solve this problem redesigned pictures of grammatical structures as that illustrate their usage as concretely as possible are included in the book. Here is a picture of "he" and "she" taken from the book:
They are pictured in this manner to demonstrate that "he" can be anyone (anyone's picture could go in the circle) but they must be a boy. "She" can be anyone as long as they are female. We like to teach this concept with a verb bingo game we play on the playground with lots of children around. In the game the child must tell you what individual children on the playground are doing. Of course the child will not know the names of all the children on the playground, so they are faced with the question of how to refer to them, thereby creating the need to use "he" and "she". Obviously I could go on and on. You might even say I could write a book on the subject. If you would like more information, activities, materials, check sheets, IEP goals/benchmarks, even strategies for fading written words into our picture communication system, check out the book, "Quick and Easy Ideas and Materials to take Picture Communication beyond Choice Making. Teaching Functional Language and Literacy with Pictures" by Carolyn Rouse and Katera
©2000 $39.95 available from Creative Communication Solutions 8516 W. Lake Mead., Suite 196 Las Vegas, NV 89128 phone: (702)743-8883 fax: (702) 255-3472 email firstname.lastname@example.org
Acknowledgements: 1 Frost, L., Bondy, A. (1994) PECS The Picture Exchange Communication System Training Manual. Pyramid Educational Consultants available through Mayer-Johnson Co. 2 Brown, "First
Language" (1971)Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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