Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Using Pictures To Help With Beginning Language: Part Two

In part one of this three-part series, I discussed how to help your child learn to give you a picture as a way of requesting something that she wants.  I talked about the first three steps I take to teach a child this skill: 

1. Find a motivating object,
2. Take and print a picture of the object that represents that activity, and 
3. Teach your child to use that picture to request the object.  

So, what next? 

This is where I often deviate from the PECS protocol set out by Frost and Bondy.  At this point, they would recommend teaching a child to cross a distance to exchange a picture with you. They would also recommend teaching persistence; that is, teaching your child to continue attempting to give you the picture, even if you don’t acknowledge him the first time.  I do understand why they include these steps, especially for children with autism, but I will admit that I often skip them and move on to picture discrimination instead. If I find that a child needs it, I will go back and teach crossing distances and persisting later. So, my step four is...

Step 4: Teach your little one to select the right picture. Up until now, you’ve only had one picture out at a time. The next step is to teach her to discriminate between two pictures and select the picture that actually represents what she wants to request. I usually do this in three smaller steps: 
  • Put out a picture of a desired object (e.g., bubbles) and a blank picture; see what she does. If she starts reaching for the blank picture, guide her hand toward the correct picture and help her hand it to you. Do this repeatedly until she starts selecting the desired object picture on her own, consistently. 
  • Put out a picture of a desired object (e.g., bubbles) and a picture of a undesired object (for example, a washcloth--assuming your little one doesn’t groove on washcloths).  If she gives you the picture of the undesired object (the washcloth), hand that object (the actual washcloth) to her. This natural consequence may lead her to the understanding that she needs to hand you the picture of the desired object (bubbles). If not, physically guide her to choose the picture of the desired object and hand it to you. Repeat until she consistently hands you the picture of the desired object.
  •  Put out pictures of two desired objects (bubbles and ball) and give her whichever one she requests via picture exchange.  If she begins to get frustrated, move back to helping her select the correct one.
Step 5: Add in new pictures, one at a time, making sure your child can discriminate among them and pick the one she really wants. If she starts having difficulty, move back to fewer pictures.  

Step 6: Find a place to keep the pictures. Many people keep them in a three ring binder, using Velcro to secure the pictures to pages that are kept inside the binder. This is nice, of course, because the binder is easily portable, and for some people, this is essential. Other people keep the pictures on their fridge, since this is a central location that works well at home, where the pictures are used most often.  There’s no magic place—do what works best for you and your family. 

And that's it! Bondy and Frost recommend many mores steps, and, if you are planning to use pictures on a long term basis, you'll want to check out their recommendations here. But in the short term,  pictures can be a great way to build a bridge to communication, easing frustration for everyone involved.  Good luck!

Looking for more information on using pictures with children? Stay tuned until next week, 
when I post my answers to Frequently Asked Questions about pictures and language. If you have a question now, leave it in the comment section, and I'll do my best to answer it next week! 

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