The Inadvertent Effects of PECS on Vocal Responding of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Abstract

Objectives

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a widely used alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) system for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who have limited or no vocal abilities. Vocalizations may emerge with the use of PECS particularly during the training phases. One question that often arises is what effect continued use of PECS has on vocal behavior. The current study evaluated the effects of PECS on vocal responding for participants who had been using PECS for at least 1 year.

Methods

Four children with ASD participated in this study. Each had functional vocal communication skills but used PECS as their primary mode of communication. One of the participants also used sign language. The effects of PECS on vocal responding were evaluated in two studies using a reversal design.

Results

The use of PECS inhibited vocal responding if both modes of communication were on the same schedule of reinforcement. When PECS was placed on extinction (study 1) or removed (study 2), vocal responding increased across subjects.

Conclusions

If vocal responding and PECS remain on the same schedule of reinforcement, vocal responses may be suppressed and, consequently, improvements in functional vocal communication may not be seen. Additional studies are needed to replicate the current findings as well as to determine if PECS should be faded if functional vocal communication is established.

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Data Availability

Data are available at Harvard Dataverse at https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/IYNXI3.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Julia Daly for her assistance with data collection for this project as well as the staff at the university hospital clinics.

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Authors

Contributions

KSR designed and executed the study, assisted with data analysis, and wrote the paper in collaboration with BPM and SEB. BPM assisted with data entry and analysis and writing of the study. SEB assisted with data entry and analysis and writing of the study.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Karena S. Rush.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethics Statement

This study was approved by the Millersville University Institutional Review Board. Informed consent was obtained and ethical guidelines at the participant sites were followed.

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Rush, K.S., Mortenson, B.P. & Birch, S.E. The Inadvertent Effects of PECS on Vocal Responding of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Adv Neurodev Disord (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41252-020-00168-5

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Keywords

  • Picture Exchange Communication System
  • PECS
  • AAC
  • Functional communication
  • Vocal responding