Words often escape individuals, especially children with Autism. Social interaction and communication are often trouble areas. Where we don’t think twice about asking someone to hand us a specific item, people with Autism find this seemingly simple task to be almost impossible, or at the very least, highly difficult.
The Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS, focuses on a child’s ability to communicate using methods other than speech. As it’s name suggests, PECS utilizes photos on cards to prompt children to demonstrate, or hand the item of their desire to their facilitator to express what they want.
Picture exchange is typically taught in 6 sections or “Phases”. In most cases, these phases should be taught in order, however, there may be some instances in which phases may need to be switched or reversed depending on the child’s specific needs.
Phase I – The first phase of PECS is when the child is conditioned, or introduced to the system. As an exercise, parents, teachers, therapists, etc. determine items that the individual child may want. For example, if the child likes chocolate, it would be considered a desired item that he or she may request or choose from a group of other cards. During this phase, the “leader” or parent usually, entices the child with an item that he or she may want. In our example above, we used chocolate, so we’ll go with that.
The first adult, or parent entices the child while the 2nd adult stands behind the child and assists him or her when they reach for that item’s photo on the table. When the child gives the adult the card, the child is rewarded immediately.
Phase II – Phase two is similar to phase I, the major difference is that the child is usually requested to go a further distance to deliver the card to the adult. Whereas in Phase I the child may have just needed to reach across the table, in Phase II he or she may need to walk a short distance.
Phase III – In Phase III, the child is introduced to discrimination; that is, choosing between two objects. “Which one do you want?” may be asked. Then, the child is to choose only one of the cards, deliver it, and be rewarded.
Phase IV: This phase begins to focus on sentence structure. The child is asked to maybe choose a card symbolizing “I want”, and then the item(s) that he or she wants.
Phase V: In this phase, the child should move from “I want Chocolate” to “I want 2 pieces of red M and M’s.” He or she should be able to choose from a series of groups of cards and form complete sentence structure using the cards.
Phase VI: Phase 5 and 6 go hand in hand and are often done together. Specifically, in Phase VI, the child is introduced to phrases such as “I feel”, “I hear”, “I want”, “I need”, etc.
The PECS system is a handy and inexpensive system for assisting socially and communication challenged children how to communicate effectively without learning a whole new language. While sign language is also a commonly utilized method, this is difficult when the child comes in contact with someone who doesn’t know the language. PECS is universally known and is solely based on the child’s understanding to make a sentence and express needs, wants, and desires using photographs or images.