To PECS or not to PECS?

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The Picture Exchange Communication System, also known as PECS is a form of alternative and augmentative communication in which a child is taught to communicate using drawings of objects and actions that are on a set of cards. PECS was developed in 1985 and was originally targeted to individuals who had trouble communicating.

Before you can understand PECS you need to understand the different stages of language development as shown in the table below.


On the left, there is the exact replica of the object i,e, the photo. As we move to the right, the object becomes more abstract until we have  the word that represents the object. PECS is based on visual symbols and for most non verbal kids with autism, they have skipped a few steps in teaching the actual meaning of the objects.

When we originally taught Ethan using PECS, he had trouble generalizing from their symbols to real objects and we found that the system did not meet his needs. We realized that  as a visual thinker, he was closer to the photo representation of objects and we had to develop a whole new methodology to teach him.

If you are teaching your child to communicate, I recommend that you begin with real photos. The first place to begin is at home. Take photos of the objects that your child is exposed  e.g. chair, table, bed, closet, window, door etc. The same is true for mom and dad, brother and sister etc. You should also include the foods that you feed your child as well. Once you have these photos, print them and then have them match the real picture to the object. I also recommend that you laminate the photos as that will increase their useful life.

By Dalia Shkedy – Ethan’s mom

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