A Parents view of PECS…supporting speech and communication through symbols.

PECS stands for Picture Exchange Communication System. It is basically a way to communicate with a symbol or photo system. The user will use symbols to either be their voice and to be able to use their voice to communicate both socially and practically.

(There’s a video I made on the day J first got his actual PECs folder, showing J’s book when it was shiny and clean. You can see it’s well used haha).

J has been using PECS for about 2 years. He is currently stage 4/5 depending on his mood that day. When J first started to use symbol communication he wasn’t using any words to communicate and was barely signing. He simply didn’t communicate or just got frustrated when his needs weren’t met.

Today I took J right back to basics as he has been a little ‘testing’ lately and forgetting (maybe wilfully) to give the card to me. He’s saying the words but he speaks to the symbols, not to me.

So here’s STAGE 1:

Exchanging a single symbol…

The very start is to build up the understanding that if you give the symbol to the adult then you will get the item in return. When J first started PECS in October 2016 this was done with 2 adults. One to be the ‘receiver’ and one to be the supporter. The supporter would use ‘hand over hand’ (which occasionally I still have to do ‘bad days’) to help J pick up the symbol/photo and pass it to the receiving adult. J would instantly be given the item and the symbol placed back ready for him to ‘ask’ again. Once he got more independent it would simply take a tap to remind him, and then a hand held out, then no reminder.

Stage 2:

Distance and persistence…

For this step I would move further away from J but leave the pecs book near to him. He then had to find his symbol and bring it over to me. Once he was comfortable with ‘distance’ I then worked on persistence. When he was 2 and was doing this step he found it difficult. To some degree he still finds this tricky. J is very selective about when and how he communicates. He will often talk randomly and just expect you to know it’s aimed at you. Or he’ll get your attention but then not actually tell you what he wants and you have to make an educated guess.

‘Persistence’ is basically encourage the child to get the adults attention to actively communicate WITH them. This can be tapping them, opening hand and putting symbol in, calling their name. An second adult is sometimes needed at this stage to act as the prompt for the child. J needed this for the first few weeks and then for better at it. He still needs some reminders but he CAN do it.

Stage 3:

Picture Discrimination

This is where J has to make a choice between 2 items. It has to be a meaningful choice eg: if he gives the car symbol but then then reaches for the bubbles then you replace symbol and direct J to choose the bubble picture. J is good at this. He can choose from quite a large selection (now he’s 3 he can choose from 4/5 symbols). You pair stage 2 with stage 3, so J makes his choice and then gets your attention by giving you the symbol. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be distance related, I often sit with him but I look away or busy myself with something else so he has to gain my attention.

Stage 4:

Sentence structure…

Stage 4 is more or less where J is now. It’s basically moving on to the making sentences. This started as ‘I want…’ with one symbol request eg: ‘I want car’. As he built confidence with this I added two symbol requests eg: ‘I want blue car’. J is more confident with adding one word but with reminders can do two symbols following ‘I want’.

We are now working on stage 5 and strengthening stage 4. As well as ‘I want’ we are bringing in ‘I hear’ and ‘I see’ to to answer questions (which is stage 5). It’s a big step as it’s not requesting an item so he’s not getting gratification of having something to play with or to hold. Answering questions is more for social communication and being part of a conversation. J isn’t particularly interested at the moment which is why I’m re-strengthening phases 1-4. But we’ll get there.

To find out more about PECs and access training and resources check out their website ❤️

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Disclaimer: I have not been paid and this is in no way a sponsored post or ad. All thoughts and opinions are my own ramblings x

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Glad to hear it’s working well for you; takes a lot of effort and perseverance but worth it when you see the rewards x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mummyest2014 says:

      Oh it’s definitely a long process so perseverance needed haha. It’s been hugely helpful for us x


  2. A brilliant post which will go a long way to reassuring new parents about just how valuable PECS can be. I LOVE how well used J’s folder is! #SpectrumSunday


  3. Thank you for sharing, it’s really interesting to see how others go about these things 🙂 We did PECS for a while when Penguin was younger, but never got past requests. And to be honest, Penguin preferred to show us what he wanted in other ways. For a little while now we’ve been working on using an AAC app on his ipad, and although Penguin still isn’t that bothered about using it, I feel more motivated to keep working on it, as it is so much more versatile than PECS. I’ve also considered a ‘PODD book’, to have something that doesn’t rely on battery power, but for now we’re focusing on the AAC app. Have you considered other options than PECS, and if so, what do you feel is the strength/advantages of PECS over other systems? 🙂x


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