How to a develop a communication system at home
If your child has a speech or language delay, their speech therapist may have several suggestions for developing a functional communication system. One that can be used at home or at school, and independently or with assistance.
One that is more familiar in the autism and special needs community is PECS. But just how do you get started with PECS? And are they really that beneficial?
When it comes to my non-verbal autistic child, the answer is a resounding yes.
Here are a few tips for how to get started with PECS for your autistic child by making a homemade PECS binder.
How to use PECS with Your Autistic Child
For us, PECS was the next level of my daughter’s communication system at home. Her first was with American Sign Language and based on several simple signs to meet her everyday and basic needs. With the help of her speech therapist, we started using PECS.
What does PECS stand for?
So first, let’s get those initials out of the way! PECS stands for Picture Exchange Communication System and was created (as it’s known in the PECS form) by Pyramid Educational Consultants.
PECS was developed in 1985 as a unique augmentative/alternative communication intervention package for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and related developmental disabilities. PECS does not require complex or expensive materials.
It was created with families, educators, and resident care providers in mind, so is readily used in a range of settings.
How does PECS Communication Work?
PECS is broken down into six phases and a student begins with Level 1 and progresses on. Some may stay longer in one area vs. another.
1- How to Communicate
Students learn to exchange single pictures for items or activities they really want.
2- Distance and Persistence
Still using single pictures, students learn to generalize this new skill by using it in different places, with different people and across distances. They are also taught to be more persistent communicators.
3- Picture Discrimination
Students learn to select from two or more pictures to ask for their favorite things. These are placed in a communication book—a ring binder with Velcro® strips where pictures are stored and easily removed for communication.
4- Sentence Structure
Students learn to construct simple sentences on a detachable sentence strip using an “I want” picture followed by a picture of the item being requested.
5- Answering Questions
Students learn to use PECS to answer the question, “What do you want?”
Now students are taught to comment in response to questions such as, “What do you see?”, “What do you hear?” and “What is it?”. They learn to make up sentences starting with “I see”, “I hear”, “I feel”, “It is a”, etc.
Sweet B is up to Phase 6 in PECS and has been using PECS since she was about 3 years old. Her language was already heavily delayed and her SLP (Speech Language Pathologist) wanted to give her a form of communication that she could carry with her from school to home and home to school.
She does use PECS pretty consistently at home and it’s her main form of communication at school.
Where can I purchase PECS cards?
Though I realize that this post is focusing on the official PECS that were developed by Pyramid Educational Consultants, I would encourage you to try several options.
You can purchase PECS or speak with your child’s speech therapist to see if they might have a set that you can borrow for home use.
Another option is to create your own PECS to use at home.
How to Make a Homemade PECS Binder to Use as Communication Book for Autism
Start by taking pictures of everyday items, objects, people, etc. Anything that your child uses or is in their life on a daily basis. You could create a sequence of pictures for setting the table, putting away dishes, making the bed or other simple chores. Bathroom and hygiene charts also work very well in terms of making a step-by-step PECS process.
Other ideas and resources can be found on my free resources for families of autistic kids. This includes links to fellow bloggers who have created outstanding resources.
If you’re looking to help with your child’s daily routine, I have a daily schedule printable pack along with a homeschool day and preschool day pack that may interest you and meet your needs. Another printable pack that may be of use, is my What to Wear printable pack.
You can find all of these in my Visual Schedule Toolkit:
Homemade PECS, whether you use purchased clipart or take pictures, are just one way of getting started with using them as a form of communication.
If you don’t use them in your binder all the time, you can also set up visual schedules around the house for specific tasks or routines.
Another way to use homemade PECS is to prepare your child for an upcoming trip. For example, a trip to Sesame Place.
Should I use a PECS Communication Book or a Visual Schedule?
Honestly, I use them both. The symbols in my daughter’s PECS binder at home are the same as the ones that we use on her visual schedules. This creates that consistency that she needs and is looking for.
We can use the PECS either in the binder, on a communication board or on a visual schedule strip.
How we created our Picture Communication System at Home
I’m working on putting all of the files together in a zip file. And I have them all listed on this page: Free Printables for Autistic Children and Their Families.
And for Sweet B, PECS still remains her primary form of communication both at home and at school. For a non-verbal individual, PECS have been our choice. We’ve tried several other methods and we’re working on integrating technology via her iPad.
Chances are likely that she’ll never speak and I’ve come to terms with that.
We’ll still work on that, both at home and at school, and if she does start to speak- great. But if she doesn’t, I want to make sure that she has every means necessary to communicate.
And for us, that meant getting started with PECS at an early age. For you and your child, that could mean something else. Take some time to explore your options independently. You can also ask your child’s teacher and your child’s speech therapist.