What is Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)?
Communication is crucial to human interaction and child development. Although verbal communication is typical, some children are unable to communicate verbally but this shouldn’t be a reason to stop them from communicating. Not being able to understand the needs and wants of a child who is unable to communicate through words or non-verbal communication can be a frustrating experience, both for the child and their caregiver. PECS is one such system that allows individuals to communicate using pictures. PECS stands for Picture Exchange Communication System
The Origins of PECS
PECS was first developed in the USA, to help preschoolers with Autism. Since then, it has been implemented worldwide to help children who experience cognitive, physical or communicative challenges. The primary goal of PECS is to facilitate functional communication; a system that helps children communicate their needs, using pictures when they aren’t able to do so verbally or by using sign language.
How does PECS work?
PECS works in a simple way. It allows people to communicate their needs using pictures. All in all, PECS is divided into 6 stages. With beginners, PECS is implemented by users presenting a single picture to indicate to their caregiver or communicative partner, an item they desire. In later stages, users are taught to discriminate between pictures and how to put them together in sentences. In the advanced phases, individuals are taught to answer questions and also comment. Although at first there was apprehension that using PECS would hinder and discourage verbal language, many studies have proved just the contrary. Some users of PECS move on to using speech. Others might transition to using a Speech Generating Device.
Main features of PECS
- The primary goal of PECS is functional communication
- It involves specific prompting and reinforcement strategies to encourage independent communication
- It doesn’t use verbal prompts, thus avoiding dependency on prompts
- There are systematic error connection procedures used to promote learning when an error occurs
Who can PECS be used with?
PECS is recommended for children and adults who experience a range of Speech, Language and Communication needs. It is a popular choice of language intervention used for children with Autism who have little or no verbal communication
Who can implement PECS?
Although the principle of PECS is simple, which is presenting a picture for a need, in reality, it is a highly structured program. Therefore it is recommended that caregivers or therapists undergo PECS training to understand how to use PECS effectively. This is helpful in reaching its complete efficacy and ensuring users do not depend on verbal prompts but instead independently initiate communication.
Uses of PECS
- For children who have little or no communication skills, using PECS has been shown to decrease tantrums and problematic behaviour. Behaviour is a form of communication when individuals are unable to express their needs and feelings in other ways. So if a child cried when they wanted a certain toy and were unable to say it, using a picture to ask for it, helps them to communicate that need while also helping the caregiver understand what they are crying for.
- Although training is recommended, beginners can use PECS without special training as pictures are labelled and easy to understand.
- PECS uses a simple matching process; picture for communicating needs, thus making communication easy.
- PECS is based on extensive research, mainly founded on Skinner’s verbal behaviour.
- PECS is widely available, easily accessible and a fairly inexpensive language intervention program.
- For children who haven’t developed speech, PECS can help avoid creating a negative association with speech.
- It also provides more opportunity for interaction and communication for non-verbal children who otherwise may not be able to participate socially.
It can be scary to realise that your child is non-verbal and may need to employ an alternative form of communication. But PECS can make communication easier for you and your child while making the experience positive and rewarding.
If you’d like to know more about PECS and how to use it, reach out to our therapists at KinderPass.
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