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 MODULE: Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) 

What Assessments Should Be Conducted Prior to Using PECS?

If you are considering using PECS for a student with ASD, some assessments probably have been completed already. These assessments often include formal intelligence tests and tests of adaptive behavior/functioning, including social interactions and communication skills. However, team members should conduct two additional assessments prior to implementing PECS training. First, a checklist should be completed to determine the student’s current communication skills. For example, it would be helpful to know whether the student is currently requesting, what kinds of directions are needed to complete a task (e.g., visual, oral), and how the student transitions between activities. Such information can help team members determine target skills for PECS training (e.g., requesting, initiating interactions) as well as the types of prompts that can be used to facilitate communicative exchanges (Frost & Bondy, 2002).
In addition to the communication assessment, a reinforcer sampling should be conducted. A “reinforcer sampling” is an informal inventory of items and activities that are of particular interest to the learner. There are a number of options for completing reinforcer sampling; however, for learners with limited communication skills, the following steps are suggested (Fisher et al., 1992):

  1. Gather a selection of items that may be favorable to the learner. These items can be identified by asking team members and observing the learner.
  2. Present the learner with pairs of choices, being sure to match each item at least once with the other items being sampled (this is to determine relative preference). Also, vary left and right presentation throughout to minimize the effects of a side preference on the part of the learner.
  3. Document the items chosen most often, least often, or that produce a notable response (e.g., learner tastes something and spits it out, learner throws item after choosing it).http://autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/node/611/edit

From this informal assessment, a selection of favorite items to be used during PECS training is created. These reinforcing items will help to increase learner motivation as well as promote acquisition of effective communication skills.

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