Thursday, April 20, 2017

I Made These 3 Mistakes Teaching The Picture Exchange Communication System, Have You?

If you have any experience with the use of AAC for communication, you are probably aware of The Picture Exchange Communication System or PECS. 

I Made These 3 Mistakes Teaching the Picture Communication System, Have You? www.speechsproutstherapy.com


The PECS System is considered low-tech and does not require an electronic device. PECS was developed in 1985 by Andrew Bondy, Ph.D. and Lori Frost, SLP.  It was a unique augmentative/alternative communication system developed to meet the needs of learners on the autism spectrum or those with developmental learning disabilities with significant communication challenges or who were non-verbal.

PECS is a well-known, widely used system of AAC. You have probably seen those communication notebooks, with Velcro and a sentence strip on the top cover, filled with more Velcro strips and laminated picture symbols inside. In classrooms for children with disabilities, you'll see children pull a picture off their book or a choice board and hand it to an adult to request a snack item or toy.

The PECS system was based on behavioral teaching techniques. In the beginning level in the system, a learner exchanges a picture with a communication partner to request something... which is then quickly honored.

Pretty simple, certainly low-cost, and easy enough for anyone to implement, right? 

Actually no. Not if you want your learner to become a fluent, successful communicator that acquires a robust set of communicative functions and an ever-growing vocabulary. Not if you want to be as effective as you can be.  You need training for that. Why? Because the research-based system will help your learners reach their highest potential using the system if you know what you are doing. I thought I did. But I had forgotten about many details that can make a big difference.

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I just completed PECS LEVEL 2 training and I have a lot to think about going forward. 


I took the Level 1 training a few years ago. Alright, maybe it was a lot of years ago... probably 15 years give or take. Since then I have used it to teach picture exchange for requesting, but not recently. Now I'm getting ready to start it with learners of mine, so I jumped on the chance to take the Level 2 training at our Educational Service Center and I'm glad I did.

In case you are wondering, I am using the term "learners" because I have heard that this week and I really like it. It works for a variety of terms and settings: including student, client or patient.


I realized that there are a few things I was doing while implementing PECS that I need to change.

I was definitely due a refresher and I learned a lot of additional tips and tricks. I think I have a deeper understanding of the process of the Picture Exchange Communication System. I also realized where I have messed up and was missing implementing parts of the protocol that can make a difference. Have you made any of these mistakes? Confession time- I have. Here are three, but there are certainly many more!

I Made These 3 Mistakes Teaching the Picture Communication System, Have You? www.speechsproutstherapy.com


1. I attempted to teach phase one, the basic exchange to request, with only one trainer- me. I remembered that two trainers were recommended, but finding another adult to work with you can be hard to do in a school setting. Teachers and assistants are super busy and engaged with the rest of the children in the class. I figured I was pretty good at multitasking and could just work harder without the extra help to keep the student engaged and learning. So I went it alone. 

There are several reasons this is not a good idea. A huge one is that we don't want our learners to become prompt dependent. A second trainer reaches from behind the learner to provide gentle physical prompts without talking to or engaging the learner. This method of prompting is much more natural, less intrusive, and is less likely to build an expectation and pattern of waiting for a prompt to begin a communication exchange.  It's really not possible to subtly prompt while facing the student as the communication partner. 

The job of the communication partner is simply to entice, then deliver the reinforcer with lightning speed as soon as the child hands over the picture. That works so much more smoothly when we use two trainers. I really think that using two trainers will improve my learner's rate of skill acquisition and become ready for phase 2 more quickly- which doesn't need a second trainer! So get creative, and find some help.  The need for two trainers should be short-term. 

Our presenter, Anne, offered several suggestions on how to find a second person to work with you.
The good news is, you do not need to use the same second trainer to be available every session. In fact, it's preferable to rotate communication partners because you will get better generalization. No-else is formally trained in PECS? That's okay because YOU are. ( I hope! If not, I strongly recommend attending training if possible). So where can you find someone to help you?

See if a teacher or an assistant can spare 15 minutes a couple times a week, Consider co-treating with your occupational therapist. If you have a behavioral trainer, ask them. That could be a great partnership. Or perhaps you can use a volunteer if confidentiality concerns are taken care of. High school and university students are often looking to volunteer or to observe in schools. Even a peer or older student may be able to pitch in. 

Keep in mind, when trained correctly,  the phase one skill of grabbing a picture and releasing it into the communication partner's hand will be learned quickly. Then you won't need any help- because you are ready for phase 2!

How do you work with an untrained helper? Have your helper do the enticing, and you do the physical prompting. If they are untrained, just tell them to hold the item up and show it without saying anything. Have them put out their hand when the learner reaches toward them, and as soon as the picture is in their hand, they will quickly give the item to the learner and name it out loud. 

 Great Tips for teaching vocabulary and language skills to students with autism or developmental delays using Picture Exchange Communication www.speechsproutstherapy.com

2. I wasn't keeping the communication book, my hand and the desired item all in line. 

In the beginning phase, you are teaching the learner to reach for the picture and exchange it. I have placed the communication book off to the student's side and sat next to him. Now I know that you do not want the learner to have to shift eye gaze too far from the motivational object to find the picture and drop it in your hand. You don't want them distracted and losing interest.

So the best way to arrange the materials and yourself is to line it all up with the reach. Sit across from the student if you are the "enticer". Be sure you position your open hand in front of the desired object. Now you are ready to deliver that reinforcer in a split second!



3. Sometimes training stalled at requesting and commenting.


The PECS system provides wonderful visual support for expanding sentences and teaching all kinds of vocabulary. Anne brought along so many great activities that can be used with our PECs learners. I am showing you a few here.  You can teach colors as adjectives with a fun selection of items in multiple colors. You can teach size, number, and shape.

How great is the little dog activity for teaching positions?

Great Tips for teaching vocabulary and language skills to students with autism or developmental delays using Picture Exchange Communication www.speechsproutstherapy.comGreat Tips on how to teach vocabulary and language skills to students with autism or developmental delays Picture Exchange Communication www.speechsproutstherapy.com




Picture Exchange Communication Tips and 3 Mistakes I Made www.speechsproutstherapy.com

Do you have students that are more interested in flicking the paper of the pictures than exchanging them? The "flicking" can become the motivator and some students tend to stim with them. Solution? Mount your pictures inside baby food jar lids for "flick-free" pictures to exchange! Genius.

Would you like Free Templates to create your picture cards? 

Read these posts and download them!

Autism Supports: Free Templates To Easily Create Picture Exchange Cards in PowerPoint


Autism Supports: How to Make Photos With No Background Using Your Smartphone




I hope you got some great ideas, I know I did.

Great Tips for teaching vocabulary and language skills to students with autism or developmental delays using Picture Exchange Communication www.speechsproutstherapy.com


Until next time my friends,

Friday, April 14, 2017

Autism Supports: Free Templates to Easily Create Picture Exchange Cards in PowerPoint

Create Your Pictures for Picture Exchange Communication in Powerpoint.

Autism Supports: Free Templates to Easily Create Picture Exchange Cards in PowerPoint www.speechsproutstherapy.com

Many people use Boardmaker to create their communication pictures, and it is a great program that has an extensive library of pictures. If you want to use your own photos or pictures, and want the flexibility to customize your pictures and photos, give PowerPoint a try. It's easy to use, and most of us have a copy already on our computer, so there is no extra cost. Love that for sure. 

I just completed PECS LEVEL 2 training and we talked a lot about using pictures for communication.

My level 2 training went in depth over all the phases of the Picture Communication system. In phase 3, pictures are now stored inside the book. This is the phase where learners are taught to discriminate between pictures and choose the correct picture.  The learner must truly look at the pictures and determine which one will get the enticer to deliver the goods!

In earlier phases, the learner picks up a single picture and exchanges it for something they want. In phase 3, there is no more simply reaching and grabbing. The learner has to begin to scan for the picture they need. To teach this in increments, two pictures are placed on the front of the book. We can start with a picture of the preferred object, and a blank square. This makes it easy to differentiate which one to choose. Next you gradually change the second square to be a picture of a non-preferred item. 

You need progressively lighter pictures for training phase 3.

 Our trainer, Anne,  suggested doing this in increments by going to the copier and producing a super light/faded copy of the picture, then several more copies that get progressively sharper and more clear until the picture is fully visible. See what I mean in the picture of the glove above.

Another way to do this is with PowerPoint if you are using photos or clipart. No worries, I created templates for you to get you started. You will need a copy of PowerPoint to use them. 

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First, you will need pictures to use!

 In my last post, I showed you how to create awesome white-background photos of real objects using just your smartphone. Read the post HERE. You can also use photos or pictures you find on the web, just be sure you are following copyright laws when you download them. Be especially careful if the finished product will be posted online. The Edublogger wrote a post on The Educator's Guide to Copyright, Fair Use and Creative Commons. Read the post to find out more about online images and copyright. 

Smarty Symbols is a popular alternative for picture symbols that can be downloaded and used.  They offer a paid membership. There are many free and low-cost clipart images available on Teachers pay Teachers. A wonderful site with cartoon-style clipart that is free to use is My Cute Graphics.


Use the FREE templates two ways for picture exchange training.

1. Create a grid of various pictures to keep interest high. In Levels 1 and 2 you will want a variety of pictures of preferred items that your learner will want to use to request.  Pop a copy of each picture on top of a square in the grid and print. Save your file and you can re-print easily if pictures become lost or worn. I like to keep a file for each student, so I can find their pictures quickly.

  2. Create multiple copies of the same picture that become progressively less opaque for Phase 3 PECS training. Create a grid of the same picture in progressively lighter intervals. Pop a copy of your picture on each square. Then bring the grid to the front (directions are provided for PC users) and print: No messing with that copier, and it will be ready to reprint any time you need it. Grids are provided in 2x2 inch and 1.75 x 1.75 inch squares. The grids can also be re-sized if needed.
 Download the free PowerPoint templates with instructions HERE.

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I learned of so many more great ideas and tips during our training. 

 What else did I learn? I have lots to tell you about and many great  photo examples of activities that Anne brought to show us. I'll be sharing these in my post next week, so be sure to stop back by! If you are not already following, you can get notice of new posts by following Speech Sprouts on Bloglovin HERE


I would love to hear what you think if you use the templates, feel free to leave me a comment.


Autism Supports: Free Templates to Easily Create Picture Exchange Cards in PowerPoint www.speechsproutstherapy.com
Download the Free Template HERE.

Until next time my friends! 






Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Autism Supports: How to Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone

Many children with autism need photos for visual support.

Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts www.speechsproutstherapy.com


I am a speech-language pathologist who has young children with autism on my caseload. I am also a friend and family member of people with autism. I have seen how using visual supports for children with autism can make a huge difference. 

Years ago, there was one sweet little boy with autism I knew well. He would get very upset and have huge meltdowns when his mother ran too many errands with him in the car. He could tolerate one or two stops, but no more than that. I helped mom make a visual schedule by taking photographs of the storefronts of her usual stops, and making a visual schedule with the photos for running car errands. It helped tremendously. Photos work!

In the beginning- working on communication skills with young friends who have autism and are not yet verbal.

Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board www.speechsproutstherapy.com
What will your student want to request?
I have a basketful of nifty toys. I begin by allowing my little friend to explore the toys. I want to see what he will enjoy and find motivating. We then use the preferred toys in therapy. I want my visits to be fun and establish rapport before moving on to more challenging activities. 

I can target many goals with my basket of bubbles, vibrating ball, rainstick, a noisy shape shorter, a light stick, wind-up toy and more goodies. For students who are non-verbal, I begin by encouraging them to engage more in interchanges with another person, take turns, increase shared attention and move toward requesting. When it goes well, we are soon calmly waiting our turn instead of crying. 

We establish a little play routine. I use lots of pauses while playing and watch to see if my little friend is anticipating what comes next. My friend looks at the toy, then at me, then back at the toy. I love when he shifts his gaze to look me and see if I am about to deliver the goods! Great stuff, we are laying the foundation in becoming a communicator.

Time to work on requesting with a picture exchange. But we need photographs!

I will be introducing my friend to requesting using a picture exchange. He is not yet ready for understanding symbolic pictures, so I need photographs of his favorite items. This is where I love having learned a few things about photography using my iPhone! So… I took these photos to make a communication board. We are all set. You may be wondering how I got that great white background and eye-catching contrast?

Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board www.speechsproutstherapy.com
Plain backgrounds help children focus on the subject.

I am going to show you how to take great object photos with just your smartphone to use with your students.

I own the iPhone 7, but you can get a great shot with a good android phone too.  I wanted a well-lit shot with no distracting background. Much easier to understand.  

Here’s how you can do it:

Take the Photograph.


Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board www.speechsproutstherapy.com
How to get a great photo using your iPhone
  1. Use a white backdrop. You can place your table against a white wall or better yet, use white poster board or a sheet of white paper taped to a vertical surface and curved like this photo of the little alien.
  2. Try to use bright natural light, but not direct sun. Near a large window is great.  If you don’t have natural light, try two lamps pointing at the object from opposite directions to help eliminate shadows. Forget the flash, it will make harsh shadows
  3. Get close to your subject. Using the zoom on many cell phone cameras will make your picture grainy. Get closer instead.
  4. Be sure your camera lens is clean- wipe with a soft cloth.
  5. Try lowering your phone/camera to the level of the table instead of an overhead view. Figure out the best angle for your subject.
  6. If you own an iPhone, lock in the focus on your subject by holding your finger down. You will see a yellow box and it will say AE/AF lock in yellow on your screen.
  7. Adjust the exposure by sliding the little yellow sun up or down... Be careful not to over-expose.
  8. Now hold still (I hold my breath) and shoot!


You may have a terrific shot you are happy with now. 

If not, you can edit it a bit. This might seem a little daunting at first, but once you do it a couple times, you will get the hang of it!
You can use the built-in editing features in the iPhone (which aren’t bad) or an editing app. Snapseed is a free app that’s awesome for editing, and not too hard to learn.


Editing on the Iphone:


Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board www.speechsproutstherapy.com
Edit your photo to make it "pop"

  1.  Open your picture in the camera roll, then touch the icon on the bottom that has three lines with circles or “sliders” on them.
  2. Touch the icon on the bottom that looks like a little clock. You will now see three options: light, color and B&W. Touch the arrow for the “light” icon. From there you may want to adjust a few things to whiten the background a bit, try making small adjustments to the brilliance, highlights and contrast. You can also up the exposure if the shot is altogether too dark. Just don’t over-expose.

Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board www.speechsproutstherapy.com

Editing with Snapseed

If you want to learn to edit with Snapseed, this tutorial on the iPhone Photography School log can get you started. Learning it is more than I plan to cover today, but definitely worth it if you love taking pictures with your camera phone! Another good tutorial is by Pink Pot. 
    
In Snapseed, you can adjust your white balance if your shot is too yellow. Here’s my super secret for getting a bright white background with little to no shadows: use the brush tool, and overexpose just the white background to make it brilliantly white and eliminate shadows. You do this with your finger!

Setting up and editing your photos may take a bit of time to learn at first, but is terrific for creating those “no background” photos for your choice boards or AAC devices that really help your student focus on what the image represents. As an added bonus, you will learn some great tricks to making your other smartphone photos extra beautiful!

Create your choice board:

1.   Send your photos to your computer. Email yourself your photos, or upload them to a service like Dropbox, and save to your computer.

If you have Boardmaker, you can import your pictures and use them in the program. Here’s a tutorial from Boardmaker: https://www.spectronics.com.au/article/26369

I made my board in PowerPoint. Give it a try if you do not have Boardmaker. Do NOT use Microsoft Word, trust me on this, you will get frustrated!

 Don’t worry, if you are unfamiliar with PowerPoint, I will have a free template download for you HERE.  Just open it in powerpoint, and save to your computer.

If you want to do it yourself, here's how:

2.   Email yourself your photos, or upload them to a service like Dropbox, and save to your computer.
3.   Open a new file and draw a table with the number of cells you need. Format it to have no fill and all borders showing. Change the dimensions of the cells to be the size you need. I made mine 2.5 inch squares. Center your table on the page.
4.   Now click insert picture and insert one of your photos. You can re-size, crop, and move your photo into one of the squares. You can add text by clicking on a cell and typing.  When finished, print! (if you have any trouble printing in Powerpoint, click Save As and save as a pdf file before printing.)

Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board www.speechsproutstherapy.com
This noisy shape sorter is a favorite!

By the way, this shape-sorter is awesome. The shapes make noise going down the tubes, and my kids love the silly noises. If you want one, you can find several vendors by searching "noisy shape sorter".

Here’s how my choice board turned out.


Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board www.speechsproutstherapy.com
This board encourages matching. I also made a mat without pictures - so I can change and  move around the photo choices.


I can’t wait to try it out with my young friend. Let me know if you give it a try.


Read my Next post for more templates and Ideas:

Autism Supports: Free Templates to Easily Create Picture Exchange Cards in Powerpoint


Have a lovely week, my friends! 


Autism Supports: How Make Photos with No Background Using Your Smartphone by Speech Sprouts- Making a choice board www.speechsproutstherapy.com