What is the Picture Exchange Communication System?
The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a way for autistic people to communicate without relying on speech. To communicate, people use cards with pictures, symbols, words or photographs to make requests or comments and answer questions.
Who is the Picture Exchange Communication System for?
Any autistic person can use the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). There’s no age limit, but most research has focused on children. Some children might use PECS for a short time while their speech is developing. Others might use it for longer.
What is the Picture Exchange Communication System used for?
The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) gives people without spoken language or with limited spoken language skills an alternative way to communicate. PECS can also increase people’s communication skills. For example, autistic people can learn to use the cards to ask for what they need, make comments and answer other people’s questions.
Where does the Picture Exchange Communication System come from?
The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) was developed in the United States in 1985, as part of the Delaware Autism Program. It’s based on the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA).
What is the idea behind the Picture Exchange Communication System?
The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is based on the idea that learning happens because of the consequences of a particular behaviour and the events that lead up to it. If a behaviour leads to something people want, the behaviour will keep happening. If the behaviour doesn’t result in what people want, it’s unlikely to happen again.
In PECS, when children use the picture cards, they’re rewarded with the objects or action they’ve asked for. Supporters of PECS say that this reinforces children’s behaviour. In turn, it increases the likelihood that children will keep using the cards for communicating needs and desires.
What does the Picture Exchange Communication System involve?
Because it’s a method of communication, the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is taught and used on a daily basis.
To begin with, a child’s preferences for things like food and toys are identified. The child is then taught to exchange pictures of these items for the actual items.
Later on, the child can use the cards to make requests, to ask and answer questions, or to do more advanced tasks like making comments. The child moves from exchanging single cards to learning to build short sentences using several cards at a time.
It’s important that parents, teachers and others know how to use PECS properly. Parents and teachers can learn how to use PECS at workshops. Some families learn how to use PECS in speech pathology sessions. Speech pathologists or teachers who have been trained in PECS might also run PECS workshops at schools.
Initial costs for the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) are high, but ongoing costs are low.
PECS training workshops are available through Pyramid Educational Consultants. In 2020, the two-day PECS basic training workshop cost $695 for professionals and $440 for parents. The workshop fee includes a copy of the PECS Training Manual with Data Forms CD, which contains information to guide parents and practitioners who are using the system.
You can buy resources for creating PECS cards from Pyramid Educational Consultants. There are also some free resources online.
You might be able to include the cost of using the PECS system in children’s NDIS plans. You can contact the NDIS to find out.
Does the Picture Exchange Communication System work?
Research has shown positive effects from the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), particularly for the early stages of PECS, which teach children how to make requests.
More high-quality studies are needed to investigate the effects of using PECS for more complex communications and to work out which children respond best to PECS.
Research also shows that PECS doesn’t stop children from developing speech.
Who practises the Picture Exchange Communication System?
Many speech pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, physiotherapists, social workers, parents and teachers have been trained in the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). When you’re making an appointment with a new professional, you can ask whether the professional has experience with PECS.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If you’re interested in using the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) with your child, it’s recommended that you do a two-day PECS basic workshop before beginning PECS. Even if you’re taking your child to a professional to learn PECS, you’re still encouraged to do the training so you can do PECS with your child at home.
After completing this training, you can often do PECS at home independently. You can get more training and support if you need it.
You can expand your PECS card library as your child’s needs and interests develop.
Where can you find a PECS practitioner?
Pyramid Educational Consultants is the only organisation certified to train people in the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). To find a certified PECS practitioner or to find out about training for yourself, contact Pyramid Educational Consultants.
You could also talk about PECS with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood early intervention (ECEI) coordinator or NDIS local area coordinator (LAC), if you have one.
There are many therapies for autism. They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for autistic children takes you through the main therapies, so you can better understand your child’s options.