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.


35th Annual Convention; Phoenix, AZ; 2009

Event Details

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Symposium #20
CE Offered: PSY/BACB
Effect of Child and Treatment Variables on Communication Skills Acquired Through PECS
Saturday, May 23, 2009
1:00 PM–2:20 PM
North 126
Area: AUT/CSE; Domain: Applied Behavior Analysis
Chair: Adrienne M. Perry (York University)
Discussant: Andrew S. Bondy (Pyramid Educational Consultants)
CE Instructor: Anne Holmes, M.S.
Abstract: As disordered communication is one of the core deficits of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), interventions logically focus on the development of functional communication systems. One of the most frequently recommended, and successfully used, approaches is the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). Based on the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis, whereby behavioural teaching strategies such as prompting and reinforcement are used to facilitate independent communication, PECS users communicate by exchanging pictures of items with a communicative partner in exchange for preferred items or a social interaction. This symposium explores the impact of teaching PECS to 22 children and adolescents diagnosed with an ASD in a therapeutic summer camp program. Data were collected according to a pre-post longitudinal research design. Results shared will include a detailed description of child outcomes, along with an analysis of the specific child and treatment factors associated with varying outcomes. Implications for theory and practice will be discussed.
The Effect of PECS Training on the Communicative Behaviour of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
JULIE L. KOUDYS (York University), Kristen McFee (York University), Adrienne M. Perry (York University)
Abstract: The acquisition of functional communication skills largely dictates the extent to which individuals with ASDs participate in daily activities at home and school and develop social relationships. In addition, the attainment of a communication system has been directly linked to the prevention and reduction of problem behaviours. Numerous studies link PECS to enhanced communication and speech development, as well as decreases in contextually inappropriate behaviours. However, few explore the quality of children’s communication skills following PECS training in detail. As such, there exists little information about vocabulary diversity (i.e., breadth/type of word use), sophistication of communication (i.e., mean length of utterance, use of attributes/proper syntax) or the range of functions the system serves (i.e., requests or social interactions). Further, little is known about the types of environments and activities in which PECS is used. Most significantly, little is known about specific areas of difficulty (i.e., spontaneity, distance, discrimination). This session provides a detailed description of the outcome of PECS training, including its impact on speech development, in a real-world setting. Data sources include pre- and post-assessment of communicative behaviour and PECS use, daily data logs, video review and parent communication questionnaires.
What matters? Child and Treatment Variables Associated with Varying PECS Outcomes
KRISTEN MCFEE (York University), Julie L. Koudys (York University), Adrienne M. Perry (York University), James M. Bebko (York University)
Abstract: Research supports the use of PECS as a means of developing functional communication skills for individuals with ASD’s. However, little is know about the specific child and treatment variables associated with varying outcomes. Studies examining the impact of behaviourally-based educational programs with children with ASDs provide evidence that child factors, familial factors and intervention factors likely play a role in outcome. However, it remains unknown as to whether or not these same factors play an equally important role in the acquisition of augmentative communication or speech via PECS. Given the prevalent use of PECS within the ASD population, outcome expectancies and evidence-based practice guidelines must be identified. This study explores specific child and treatment variables as they relate to PECS outcomes. Child variables explored include developmental level (i.e., mental age or IQ), cognitive variables (i.e., verbal/nonverbal skills), adaptive skills (i.e., self-help, social, communication skills) and severity of autism symptoms. Treatment variables include fidelity (i.e., adherence to PECS protocol), intensity, (i.e., number of requests per day) and generalization factors (i.e., variety of reinforcers, activities, environments and people). Implications for outcome expectancies and teaching will be shared.
Prerequisite Skills: Are they really a prerequisite to PECS Training?
KRISTEN MCFEE (York University), Julie L. Koudys (York University), James M. Bebko (York University)
Abstract: There has long been debate as to whether prerequisite skills, such as imitation or discrimination, are required prior to teaching a behaviourally-based communication system like PECS. A large body of developmental research suggests that individuals with ASDs demonstrate impairments in symbolic cognitive development, including difficulties with speech, gesture, imitation and pretend play. These skills, along with an understanding of other symbols like pictures, typically emerge within the first few years of life. This study explores whether individuals with ASDs may also have difficulties understanding pictures as symbols and more importantly, whether such impairment impacts the ability to use PECS. Other cognitive skills explored include the ability to discriminate amongst pictures, match pictures and objects, and learn associations between words and pictures. From a behavioural perspective, it is hypothesized that many of these cognitive skills are irrelevant to a child’s ability to use PECS. Children were evaluated on the aforementioned cognitive skills and entry level of PECS at the beginning of camp, as well as on PECS outcomes at the end of camp. Implications for teaching PECS will be discussed.



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