Grow Communication

Helping unlock communication in central Scotland

Sugar highs and picture exchanging (Top Tips for PECS)

dsc_1157.jpgDisclaimer:  Before I start I must stress that I do encourage healthy eating but there are times when only sweeties do the trick :).

LOVELY session starting Phase 1 of PECS with a little boy  who just “got it” 🙂 *proud proud faces plus applause*.  Our little star currently has a handful of emerging word-approximations, effective gesture and motoric communication (taking you where he wants, moving your hand and emerging pointing).  But he also has more pockets of frustration where it’s hard to figure out what he is meaning as he doesn’t have a formal system to communicate clearly.

After spending a couple of sessions getting to know the wee one at home and looking in more detail at his functional communication (how he communicates his likes, dislikes, feelings, requests, protests, delight etc), at how he understands visuals, and his very, very clear initiation of communication we decided together to give PECS picture exchanging a go to support his ability to request.

PECS stands for the Picture Exchange Communication System.**  The Pyramid website says “PECS begins by teaching an individual to give a picture of a desired item to a “communicative partner?, who immediately honors the exchange as a request. The system goes on to teach discrimination of pictures and how to put them together in sentences. In the more advanced phases, individuals are taught to answer questions and to comment.”

Decoding this for the wee one I am supporting, I suggested this approach to give him a concrete/formal way to let us know what he wants (toys, activities, food and other motivators), to reduce frustration, and as a first step to building a communication system based on his strengths (visual in his case).  

Today – day 1 was smarties, jelly sweets, balloons and bubbles and yes – they did the motivational trick :).  We were all excited to see just how ready he is for this next step.  Hooray.  Plus Mum and Dad are all set for lots of practice.  And just for them here are some key tips/reminders for Phase 1 (AKA How to communicate).

  1. First one is free (just like in retail it’s the free sample that convinces them it really is a good idea to spend).
  2. Wait for the student to initiate (yes tempt them with the goodies but don’t force it if they’re not overly fussed with what is on offer).  Motivation is king!
  3. No verbal prompts (zip it if you can) as verbal prompts are really hard to fade. “Watch for the dive” towards the motivator and use a physical prompt swiftly.
  4. Little and often is the way (the manual suggests 30-40 opportunities throughout the day – yes 30-40).  It’s important that it’s based on the child’s motivation so make sure it doesn’t become a drill/enforced (it is possible to get sick of jelly sweets after a while ;)).
  5. Use lots of different types of motivators (food, toys, activities etc).  Vary it as much as interests will allow.
  6. Switch around prompt (elbow nudger) and communication partner (holder of the goodies) – mix it up and keep him on his toes.
  7. Reinforce within 2 seconds (basically hand over the goods fast as possible after request).  And always say the word as you hand it over as we are always modelling speech.
  8. Prompter stay close and ready to help if needed but always be thinking about hauling back your physical prompts (paws off if possible but paws on to ensure successful initiation).
  9. Try it here, there and everywhere.  The best PECS learning happens when those introducing it “Stop, Drop and Talk”.  Keep your eyes peeled for communicative opportunities and go for it.
  10. Keep having fun (I’m always in favour of hamming it up).  Communication is always about connection so enjoy (sweeties should always be shared ;).

Jude 🙂


**Contrary to popular belief PECS is not the same as using visuals for timetables/schedules (those symbols are PCS from Mayer Johnson) – so try not call your schedules or timetables or other visuals PECS :).


This entry was posted on April 30, 2016 by .
%d bloggers like this: