PECS for Children with Autism

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PECS for children with autism is basically a picture exchange communication system, which in layman’s terms means children use pictures to communicate instead of vocal language. This intervention enjoys much success in assisting non-verbal autistic children with communicating.

What is PECS?

The picture exchange communication system which is commonly referred to as PECS was developed in 1985. Not only is it a vital tool that facilitates communication for non-verbal children, but it also an excellent tool in assisting children who are verbal with their communication skills.

PECS for children with autism is considered an augmentative and alternative communication which is commonly referred to as AAC. Augmentative and alternative communication is defined as a form of communication for individuals with disabilities or other restrictions. Therefore when discussing autistic individuals PECS is a form of communication. The difference between PECS and other forms of augmentative and alternative communication is that PECS is relatively inexpensive to use and easy to get underway quickly.

How does PECS work?

PECS works by first determining which items are pleasing to the autistic child. Pictures are then taken of those objects. They are generally laminated and then cut into squares. Often therapists or other caregivers will include Velcro on the back of each square. The squares are then inserted into a booklet that allows the child to easily remove the Velcro squares.

At this point the child is then taught to request the items using the squares for each one that they want. While this may seem quite simple, consistency is imperative to success.

The approach is successful because through the use of positive enforcement autistic children learn to request things they need and want.

The Steps

PECS can generally be broken down into phases. In the first phase the therapist or parent teaches the child to exchange the pictures for things they want. This takes practice, and positive reinforcement must be immediate and consistent for success.

In phase two different therapists or caregivers will practice the PECS with the child along with the current instructor. During this phase the PECS will be used by the teacher or caregivers at different locations. This teaches autistic children to use the skill on a more general and consistent basis. Next, children are essentially taught to choose the picture of what they want from a row of a few pictures.

In the next phase children learn to build actual sentences. An example would be “I want chips” or “I want juice”. They will then add the picture square of the desired item to the end of their sentence.

In the next phase students learn to reply to questions using the PECS system. Communication becomes easier because they have been slowly phased into the program.

Finally children learn to actually communicate and respond to questions and comments using their PECS system. An example would be the teacher asking the question “What do you see?” and the child pulling out a picture of a bird. Autistic children will also learn to initiate conversations using this system.

How does PECS benefit children with autism?

The outcome of a PECS program is usually a more confident child. They enjoy the positive feedback from initiating conversations using their PECS squares. Often parents, teachers, and other caregivers will find that autistic children begin to request things and make observations about their surroundings using their PECS system.

While getting to that point takes time; it is imperative to be swift and consistent when giving positive reinforcement and praise. Take any opportunity to initiate a request using the PECS squares.

Unlike many other intervention programs, PECS is inexpensive and easy to learn. PECS for children with autism is one of the many powerful early intervention techniques that could improve or possibly reverse problem behavior due to difficulty communicating. This is because children who are able to communicate have fewer tantrums and other behavioral problems.