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PECS and other Protocols

Picture Exchange Communication System I have known about PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) for years now and have used it on a couple of occasions. This summer I finally had some good results. The sytem is supposed to fill the gap in communication or offer a bridge of communication for those with autism or on the spectrum, to help them communicate with those we are outside of the spectrum. Great right?!!?

Sometimes, maybe?? Well the thing about PECS is that it can be disruptive to daily living, overwhelming for those administering the system, and not always productive and useful for the one using it. Here’s my latest experience using the system:

I didn’t want to wait to be allowed access to the school’s computer to collect the pictures I would need from the PECS software so I got on my computer, opened MS Word, and searched for clip art. I printed card stock sheets with 3 rows and, I think, 6 columns of pictures of common daily events and things she likes or encounters. I cut the pictures out. Put velcro on the backs of each card and stuck them on a corkboard I picked up at my pimp’s house, Wal-Mart.  

We were on it hard for about a month then it faded. I guess we got distracted from using it and I feel that we should start back to curtail some of the crying she does throughout the day now that the Risperdal is completely out of her system.

I also was told that the system could encourage her to be more conversational. I saw that it did but that fades when the system isn’t in use.

In the past, the only thing she did with the pictures was chew on them and they were laminated and were the actual pics from the software.

I read not long ago somewhere on the web a mother stating how the system had been suggested to her and she found it to be very overwhelming to keep up with while using other protocols with her child. I agree with that because it’s not really normal to have to go to a board or pull out a picture book containing each event before you can do it. Or have a pile ready for the child to choose from to even complete a sentence for writing and reading exercises.

If a parent finds that they are having a time trying to keep up with everything suggested to them that maybe will help their child’s life, I think they should disregard it if it isn’t adding anything profound, through observation, to that child’s life. How can a child with autism really blend in with their peers and society as a whole if they are running around with picture books to help them be able to get from one point to the next?

PECS may not be as bad as a child running down the aisles of the supermarket ripping things off the shelves but having to keep up with a picture book while you chase the child down, while not tripping over yourself in the process, is not something I can be bothered with. My child hasn’t ran through a store (not ripping things off the shelves mind you) in a while….

Wait!! let me stop thinking about it before she does it the next time we are out.

But I think you get my point, the system is hit or miss for some. It may not work now but will work later on when the child has gained more skills as a whole, and vice versa. Also the good from using the system may be short lived or lackluster for some. I also feel that if you can’t afford the system or can’t find it on a public or school computer, use your own pix.

And finally I believe you should go into using the system with low or no expectations because there is no guarantee that you will get the results you read or heard about which were probably no less than fantastic.

Have you had experience with PECS?

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0 thoughts on “PECS and other Protocols

  • @Masonsmom – sounds like your hard work and determination paid off big time for a nice success story! Many advocate teaching all children basic sign as it stimulates language development for all! It is nice to hear from someone who has proven this to be true. parents I worked with gave up on the signing. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • @jeannicol – great advice however – we went that route first and we have always used sign with all of our kids in the early stages of communication – the great thing about sign is that we were able to use basic signs combined with basic verbal communication – this all started when he was two and a half…he is now six and a half and fully verbal – he is still unable to generalize – literal to the extreme but he corrects us or asks questions when he doesn’t understand and the only thing that we use sign for now is for social cues – like manners, when he wants something and he is have a moment where he is struggling to find the right words.  He has been “talking” fully for two years and even at that he has only had functional speech for maybe a year…I have seen children who are using pecs and it works wonderfully for them – in a busy household of four children – PECS just wasn’t working for us.  As far as other parents learning sign – ASL level 1 – is so easy to learn – it teaches basic sign for day to day function – its like getting one of those translator books when you go to a different country…combined with verbal cues and verbalizing the in between words – sign works really well.  That is our experience and it has worked well for us.  cheers.

  • @Masonsmom – It is fantastic that you found a way to communicate with your son using sign language. Too many people are so totally frustrated by not being able to communicate. My efforts in advocating for those on the spectrum (child – adult) is so often for them to have a way to communicate. Unfortunately too often people think that those who can’t communicate are mentally challenged – not so! The problem I always had with sign language was that its use was so limited in that so few people can sign.

    Do you think your son would ever be able to generalize and understand the graphic of “jacket” if you included it with many photos of different jackets? You wouldn’t have to do this with everything but once he understood with objects most frequently used he might be able to generalize better……………just a thought.

  • On the flip side – we tried PECS and we were at it for almost a year before we realized that our son could not relate to the pictures – he needed an actual picture of HIS jacket to understand that the picture on the card was referring to that particular item….we would have had to take photographs of every single item in his life in order for him to understand the point of the pictures – we used sign language instead so that we could communicate on the spot using sign and the tangable item that we were referring to.  PECS isn’t for everyone and I can totally relate to the author with regards to this particular conundrum. 

  • Justbeinghonest

    MamaOfAutism, your posts on Autisable are really starting to annoy me. I’m not here to flame you but something about the way you write is really off putting, and you seem more focused on how your daughter’s Autism negatively affects you than how you can be a mother to your child with Autism. Additionally, from your other article posted on Autisable, it seems like there is a possibility that you are blaming too much on her Autism and less on parenting. Your posts just seem to have…. attitude. There’s no place for attitude in parenting.

  • Frankly, I’m sorry that you feel that way.  Yes, using PECS will make your child stand out among her peers.  Yes, using PECS requires organization and careful thought for choosing symbols to give the widest range without making your fingers numb from cutting lamination and velcro.  Yes, using PECS requires consistency-possibly the hardest part.  Yes, PECS can lead to more conversations, but that is a step that comes far after learning to respond.  Yes, PECS requires that you teach vocabulary in a structured manner. 

    Let’s take a look at your experience.  It sounds like you put out pictures of her schedule more than things she might want to say–PECS is not scheduling.  Yes, using a visual schedule is a great strategy for kids with autism or significant cognitive disabilities.  It may bring on conversation/commenting but let’s not confuse visual strategies with PECS. 

    It does sound like your daughter is making progress.  She knows that these pictures help her get things–she’s not chewing on them any more.  Communication is a process.  You didn’t start by speaking in sentences with varied vocabulary words either.  To learn to communicate takes determination and consistancy.  It is a team effort–between therapists, teachers, and parents.  You’re not alone. 

    Profound progress often does not happen overnight, over a month, or even over several months.  To me, the best part of working with students with special needs is celebrating the small victories–I don’t have to wait until the end of the year to see that my students have passed the standardized test and made progress.  I see it every day and celebrate each step. 

    You might want to start small with simple yes/no, more, I want, I like, I don’t like cards–you yourself started with one word after all.  Especially for the summer when things are different because we aren’t in the normal routine of the school year. 

    Finally, I think you are missing the most important point of everything that has to do with children with special needs–having high expectations.  Or just children in general.  Your child will live up to your expectations.  If you set them low, your child will be there.  If you don’t expect PECS (or any other system for that matter) to work–you’re not going to believe in it, you’re not going to use it effectively, you’re not going to be as excited when your child does use it and show them that it is worth their while to communicate with them.  Or show them that it is worth their while to do anything.  Our children are watching us–whether we are parents, teachers, friends, babysitters, or classmates–and see what we do, what we say, how we dress, how we act, every last thing and they do value what they see.  Autistic or not.  Special needs or not. 

    I’m not saying be unrealistic.  Don’t set your expectations so high that your child cannot reach them–don’t expect your child to start up conversations if she is only using yes/no/more cards.  But do expect her to start using them more frequently, using them more independently, increasing vocabulary.  You know what your child can do–you know what is reasonable. 

    I hope if you take away nothing else from this comment, change your outlook.  Have high expectations because your child will reach them.   


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