The Picture Exchange Communication System is essential for non-verbal (and barely verbal) children with autism. It can help aleviate a lot of frustration for your child and yourself. But the benefits of PECS extend far beyond the relief of frustration.
• Teaches communication and interaction
• Teaches proper sequencing of words to form sentences
• Makes your autistic child more independent
• Is portable and useful in virtually ALL environments
PECS is also proven.
I remember when my son, who has autism, began using the Picture Exchange Communication System. I was pesimistic about it and I was worried that he’d get too comfortable communicating with pictures. I thought that as a result he wouldn’t be encouraged to speak. My worries were unfounded. He had barely begun using the sentence strip when he started speaking enough that we discontinued using the picture system.
At the time Braden’s speech therapist introduced us to PECS our son used few words. Like many children with autism he was largely silent. There was a lot of frustration at first because this was a new process. He was accustomed to pointing and crying and that sort of thing to get what he wanted. And it worked fine for him. So why switch? But we stuck to the system and Braden soon learned that if he wanted something pointing and crying was not going to help him get it. He had to locate the right icon (technically called a Picture Communication Symbol) and put it in our hand.
PECS communication symbols
The icons are small laminated pictures or drawings of items or activities with velcro on the back.
Before long Braden was using PECS like crazy. Sometimes if I saw that he was getting the icon for M&Ms I would run away from him. It was a hoot! He would then chase me down, laughing as he ran. He knew he had to catch me, grab my hand, and give me that icon before he would get any M&Ms.
As your child continues with this communication system he will eventually be introduced to the sentence strip and how to use it. The sentence strip is a small piece of plastic or vinyl, large enough to line up a few icons, with a strip of velcro on it. “I” and “Want” are the first two icons on the sentence strip, or sometimes they may be combined into a single icon.
Knowing what my son wants, and having knowledge of PhotoShop, I took digital photos of different items like the bath tub and preferred foods and made custom PECS icons for him. To keep him familiar with family and his many therapists some of his custom icons were pictures of people in his life.
If your son or daughter is non-verbal ask your speech therapist about PECS and if it’s right for your child at this time. Depending on your autistic child’s age and comprehension a more advanced communication device may be more appropriate. I’ve known many children with autism who have used PECS and it has yielded results.
How Does PECS Work?
The concept behind PECS is simple. Since your child can’t yet use speech to communicate he/she instead hands you a picture of the item they want. That’s how it starts. As it continues your child will have a PECS board and/or a PECS binder with velcro and picture icons all over it. The binder can be taken out in public or anywhere to help your child communicate. PECS isn’t just a new system for your child with autism, it’s also essential that you the parents learn how to be the communicative partner. Without you the system will fail. PECS has six phases of implementation. You child’s speech therapist will be familiar with them and will work with you during these phases to ensure they’re correctly implemented and used at home as well as everywhere else.
1. Phase 1 is designed to help your child understand that handing you an icon means he’ll receive that item. He isn’t expected to verbalize or discriminate between the icons. Also, a nice variety of icons and objects are used because you don’t want your child thinking PECS only applies to certain things.
2. The second phase is when a communication board and/or binder is implemented and your child learns to pull the desired icon from the board and bring it to you. This is to help your child learn to initiate communication and that it will take physical effort on their part.
3. Phase 3 teaches your child to discriminate between the icons. In the previous two phases your child would be given a desired object regardless of which icon he put in your hand. But at phase 3 if he brings you the icon for a hat he gets a hat, even though you know he really wants a cookie. The trainer, or speech therapist, will also verbalize with something like, “You want a hat.”
4. Phase 4 marks the beginning of the use of the sentence strip. No more bringing you single icons. Like I noted above “I want” is placed at the beginning because when children first begin to communicate it is to satisfy their needs. The therapist will also instruct you to now say “I want cookie” when you are handed the sentence strip with a cookie icon on the end. Essentially you read the sentence strip. This is meant to help your child understand the connection between the sentence they’ve put together and the spoken language.
5. The fifth phase is when you start saying “What do you want?” and your child learns to then go to the icons, put together a sentence strip, and bring it to you.
6. Phase 6 expands on the whole process with the sentence strip. Icons are added so your child can make sentences for more than just “I want”. Perhaps “I like” and “I see” would be added among others. Maybe colors and emotions would be added if appropriate. In this phase your child is encouraged to explore and respond to questions and situations.
For more information on the research, how it works, and more specific details: