Measuring an adapted form of picture exchange communication systems (pecs)for young children with visual impairments and developmental disabilities
Parker, Amy T.
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Children with visual impairments along with additional disabilities comprise the largest subpopulation within the corpus of students that are identified with visual impairments. Collectively, this heterogeneous group of children has well documented delays in communication development. When children have visual impairments, they lack access to powerful visual cues in the environment, such as facial expressions or gestures, which support the initial development of communication skills. With diminished access to observing and imitating communication behaviors and patterns, many children with visual impairments and multiple disabilities become passive in their environments, increasing their risk for â€œlearned helplessnessâ€, a condition that can occur when an individual perceives no relationship between his behavior and its impact on the environment. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) teaching strategies have been shown to assist children with and without visual impairments in developing functional communication skills producing positive outcomes for individuals, families, and school staff. AAC is designed to provide a means for both the speaker and the listener to engage more efficiently and effectively in the communication process. Often interventions using AAC strategies or devices require some type of adaptation, either in materials or approaches, in order to provide greater access and support to students with visual impairments. As these children are also members of a low incidence disability group, teachers, related service providers and parents may lack knowledge ways to effectively alter AAC methods to enable students to gain functional communication skills. The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) has been shown to build the expressive communication skills for students with autism and those with developmental disabilities. Traditional PECS teaching strategies rely upon an intact visual sense for accessing pictures, line drawings, gestures or other visual supports from a communication partner to request items, or make choices about desired objects in the environment. The use of 3-D parts of objects may be useful in adapting the PECS protocol for individuals with visual impairments and additional disabilities. This study examined the effects of an adapted form of PECS on the communication skills for three students with visual impairments and developmental delays. Participants were recruited through teachers of the visually impaired and certified orientation and mobility specialists from a local school system. All training sessions occurred within the studentsâ€™ local school placements in a mid-sized city in the Southwestern United States. The study answered the following questions: (a) Will children with visual impairments and developmental disabilities be able to acquire an adapted form of PECS? (b) As a component of the intervention, will participants increase frequency and distance for independent traveling to a communication partner? (c) Will participants show increases in pre-post measures of the use of conventional communication forms as measured by the Communication Matrix? A single-subject multiple baseline across participants was used for the study. This approach was used to measure behaviors before, during and after the intervention. In concert with this approach, pre-post measures were drawn on the studentsâ€™ communication behaviors using the Communication Matrix instrument using video samples and reports from teachers/parents. Results indicate that two of the three participants were able to acquire the use of an adapted form of PECS for functional communication and that all participants demonstrated new communicative behaviors as measured by the Communication Matrix. This study expands the evidence for the use of PECS for a new population of students by providing preliminary data on the use of adapted materials and strategies.