WHAT IS PECS?
PECS is the acronym for Picture Exchange Communication System. It is a low tech AAC (Alternative Augmentative Communication) system that is made from a small, portable binder, Velcro, and laminated visual icons. The visual icons are a collection of core vocabulary words and words that are important and familiar to the child. It is made up of 6 sequential stages that follow the same order of language development in children with typically developing language abilities. PECS is taught at increasing complexities and through many of the same principles as ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) therapy where communication behaviors are taught through a series or rewards. Before beginning PECS training, it is important to find what each child finds most rewarding. These preferred items are most typically favorite foods or favorite toys. The child’s preferred items are used as reinforcers in the beginning stages of PECS when learning that an exchange must happen to get the reinforcer, that the child must initiate that exchange, and discrimination between preferred items and non-preferred items. In the following stages, the child learns to expand their communication to request in sentences (ex. “I want the ball”), learns how to answer questions, and learns to comment. PECS offers an alternative way to promote functional communication and reduce communication breakdowns.
WHO DOES PECS BENEFIT?
PECS was originally designed as an alternative form of communication for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Many children with ASD exhibit echolalia, or frequent imitation of speech. In these instances, PECS teaches functional and meaningful communication rather than communicative messages that are imitated. For children with limited verbal output, PECS can be a great substitute for the individual to get their wants and needs met. It is also a great tool for children with traditional speech abilities but whom demonstrate difficulty with social exchanges, initiation, and answering questions for communicative purposes. PECS can serve as a visual support to aid in expanding utterance length. Although PECS was originally created for children with ASD, it has since expanded and is recognized as a successful means of communication for children with a wide variety of speech and language impairments.
WILL MY CHILD NOT SPEAK IF THEY ARE RELYING ON PECS?
On the contrary! More and more research is suggesting that PECS can aid in helping children with communication impairments develop traditional speech at faster rate. For many children, PECS can be a precursor to speech and act as an extra visual support to assist with development of traditional speech. For some children, verbal output is sometimes too difficult, and outside the range of their abilities. For these children, PECS can be a precursor to a higher tech AAC device (i.e. iPad, Dynavox, Speakeasy, etc.). If you think your child could benefit from PECS, ask your local Speech-Language Pathologist today!