Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


34th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2008

Event Details

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Symposium #507
CE Offered: BACB
Using Visual Strategies to Promote the Acquisition of Communication and Social Skills of Children with Autism
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
9:00 AM–10:20 AM
International South
Area: AUT; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Debra Berry Malmberg (Claremont McKenna College)
Discussant: Debra Berry Malmberg (Claremont McKenna College)
CE Instructor: Debra Berry Malmberg, Ph.D.

Interventions for communication development are of critical importance for children with autism due to their characteristic deficits in language. To date, the only AAC intervention that has been empirically investigated with persons with autism is the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) (Charlop-Christy, Carpenter, Le, LeBlanc, & Kellet, 2002). The research presented in this symposium addresses further advances in AAC research. The first presentation examines the degree to which children with autism generalize PECS use to natural settings, including a playroom, their home, and the community. The second presentation extends previous research by assessing the relationship between PECS training and increases in verbalizations across generalized settings. The final presentation extends the research on designing an augmentative and alternative communication intervention by incorporating visually-based strategies and addressing the socio-communicative deficits in persons with autism. The communication intervention uses recent advancements in technology and assesses impact on acquisition rates, social acceptance, and generalization across environments.

Is the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) Functional? An Assessment of PECS Generalization.
ALISSA GREENBERG (Claremont Graduate University), Melaura Andree Eri Tomaino (Claremont Graduate University), Marjorie H. Charlop (Claremont McKenna College)
Abstract: One communication intervention, the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), has gained widespread use when teaching communication to nonverbal children with autism (Charlop-Christy, Carpenter, Le, LeBlanc, & Kellet, 2002). Although previous studies have attempted to assess generalization of PECS use (e.g., Bock, Stoner, Beck, Hanley, & Prochnow, 2005; Chambers & Rehfeldt, 2003), rigorous assessments of generalization are needed to determine if PECS is functional. Functionality is achieved when children are spontaneously using the target skills in naturally occurring settings and situations (Horner & Budd, 1985). The current study examined PECS use in four settings: a therapy room, a playroom, children’s homes, and in the community. Results indicated that all of the participants acquired the use of PECS and that the children used PECS to communicate across all settings. These findings contribute to the growing literature assessing the effectiveness of PECS. Not only can nonverbal children with autism readily acquire PECS use, but more importantly, PECS can be used as a functional means of communication across multiple environments and people.
The Effects of PECS Training on Language Acquisition for Children with Autism.
MELAURA ANDREE ERI TOMAINO (Claremont Graduate University), Alissa Greenberg (Claremont Graduate University), Marjorie H. Charlop (Claremont McKenna College)
Abstract: One hallmark feature of autism is delayed speech and language skills (Charlop & Haymes, 1994). Due to such a delay, it is important to systematically teach children with autism pre-communicative skills that may lead to the acquisition of speech and language. Previous research has demonstrated that acquiring the use of Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) skills not only gives children an effective means of communication, but also leads to concomitant increases in verbal speech (e.g. Charlop-Christy, Carpenter, Le, LeBlanc, & Kellet, 2002; Ganz & Simpson, 2004)). The current study extended previous research by using a rigorous assessment of children’s verbalizations outside of the PECS training sessions (during play sessions at the behavioral treatment center and at children’s homes). Results indicated that participants’ verbalizations increased in these generalized environments after the completion of PECS training. Results are discussed in terms of the continued need to investigate the effectiveness of PECS and the effects of PECS training on important ancillary behaviors such as speech.
Designing AAC Interventions Based on the Strengths of Children with Autism.
GINA T. CHANG (Claremont Graduate University), Marjorie H. Charlop (Claremont McKenna College)
Abstract: Though the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) interventions are common in practice, implementation of interventions with children with autism have received relatively little research (Mirenda, 2003). Review of the literature indicates that persons with autism demonstrate relative strengths in visually-based interventions (Charlop-Christy & Jones, 2006) and, in accordance with the diagnosis, demonstrate qualitative impairments in socio-communicative skills (APA, 2000). This study extends the research on designing an augmentative and alternative communication intervention that also incorporates visually-based strategies and addresses the socio-communicative deficits in persons with autism. This study assessed the efficacy of an AAC intervention specifically based on the strengths and needs of persons with autism. Furthermore, the study assessed the use of current technological advances in regards to rate of acquisition, social acceptance, and generalization of use across environments.



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