Picture Exchange Communication System

  • This is a way of helping children with no speech or limited speech to communicate their wants, needs and feelings so they don’t get frustrated.
  • It supports speech development and builds the words children know and use.
  • It’s goal is to teach children functional communication, that is to be able to make a request for something or to express a though, comment or feeling rather than just labelling items.

There are 6 stages in PECs and we teach them in in this order

Stage 1 – How to communicate Individuals learn to exchange a single card for an item or activity they really want. The individual learns if I give you this card I get the activity or item I want.

Stage 2 – Persistence and distance–  Still use single pictures. Individuals learn to use the skill of exchanging a picture for what they want in different places, with different people across distances. They also learn to become more persistent communicators. The card goes on their communication book and their communication book goes with them wherever they go.

Stage 3 – Picture Discrimination At this stage individuals learn to discriminate between pictures. They learn to select the picture they need to ask for their favourite things. The pictures are placed in their communication book.

Stage 4 – Sentence Structure Individuals learn to construct simple sentences on a detachable sentence strip using an “I want” picture followed by a picture of the object they are requesting.

Stage 5 – Attributes and Language Expansion Individuals learn to expand their sentences by adding adjectives, verbs and prepositions.

Stage 6 – Responsive Requesting Individuals learn to use PECs for answering questions like what do you want.

How we teach children this approach? (You can also do this at home)

First we find out what motivates and interests your child and then make sure these items can’t be accessed freely, in preparation for PEC’s. This is because we need to create the need to communicate. If your child is motivated by cars but can get the car themselves then there is no need to communicate, it needs to be out of reach so they have to request it if they want it. We find about 10 items of interest to use these are called motivators.

Stage 1 – Learning to communicate

  • We use the motivators we have discovered.
  • Two people are required as in the picture.
  • We put the picture card in front of your child and the object in the lead adults hand.
  • Your child will probably reach for the item. The second adult, who is the prompter, guides your child’s hand to the picture and to giving the picture to the adult. The lead adult gives the object to the child immediately after they get the picture card, within 3 secs of getting it and they praise by saying the items name.
  • Your child plays with the item for a short time 2-3 minutes and whilst playing with it the adult places the card back in front of them.
  • The object is then given back to adult (if your child won’t give the item back we use a less motivational item next time or use another item we know they like)
  • Over time we reduce the prompt. If your child reaches for the card, we don’t prompt. If your child is going to give the card to the adult after picking it up we stop the prompt. We want the prompts gone as soon as possible.
  • We take it in turns to be the prompter and the lead adult so your child learns to communicate with more than one of us.
  • Once your child has mastered this stage we move on to stage 2.

Stage 2 –  Persistence and distance

  • At this point we are still using one card.
  • Gradually we move away from your child or move the object away from your child, which makes them have to move to communicate. We teach sessions of this, but also have the PECs folder around in class so they have to use it. Again we only give them the item for a short time and then remove it to make sure they have to communicate again.
  • At this point your child may constantly be seeking people out to exchange the card with. This is what we want.
  • Your child may still need a prompt at this point so we call for a prompter when needed. We want your child to communicate with us all.
  • At home you can set up communication situations – for example snack – give one item at a time so your child has to request more. (Use foods your child likes such as crisps, chocolate buttons, fruit, etc). if it is a toy place the toy they like where they can see it but can’t reach it for example on a shelf so they have to request.

Stage 3 – Picture Discrimination

  • At this point we are getting your child to discriminate between two pictures so they can give us the picture they want for the item or activity they want.
  • We start by using a motivational item and a non-motivational item. For example, a sock and bubbles
  • We place the corresponding pictures on the front of your child’s book.
  • We use pictures that are very different in look to help discrimination between them.
  • At this stage when they touch the correct picture we reinforce with yes, uhh huh or that’s right as this works as a reinforcer for the action. When the card is placed in our hand we give the item and name it. BUT if your child touches the wrong picture or gives the wrong picture we give them the item they chose. They are usually not happy with this and will reject it. At this point we use the 4 step error correction which reminds your child what they need to do. We hold our open hand near the target picture and physically or gesturally prompt so your child gives the target picture. We praise but don’t we don’t give item as we have prompted your child to achieve this. We put the pictures back on board and do a distract action like clapping our hands or turning the PECs book over before trying again. We then entice with both items. Hopefully this time your child will give the correct picture to get the item. We give the item and praise by saying what the object is. If your child gets it wrong again we do a 4 step error correction again to support learning to pick the correct picture.
  • If your child keeps making errors we have other strategies to use to help them.
  • Once your child has mastered two pictures we add another. We teach up to 5 pictures to discriminate from, arranging the pictures in an x shape so your child has to scan vertically horizontally and diagonally to find the picture they want.
  • Finally we teach your child to look in book for the pictures they need. We put all the pictures learnt so far inside the book. We show the inside of the book and the desired items. We close the book so your child has to reach inside the book to get the desired picture. We provide a physical prompt if needed. The book is with them in class and outside.

Step 4 – Sentence Structure

  • At this point your child will learn to form an I want sentence.
  • Using your child’s Pecs book we model how to make a sentence. We guide your child to add the I want card hand over hand if needed and then the item they want and then to give the sentence strip to the adult. We read the strip to your child as we point to each picture and then give them the item.
  • When your child reaches for I want first we praise with yes, uh huh to reinforce the correct decision is being made. If they point to the wrong one we say nothing.
  • If they give us a sentence strip without I want on we backwards chain to correct it. This involves us going back to the point where they were correct which often means going back to the beginning and prompting for the I want picture first.

Step 5 – Attributes and language expansion

  • Now description words are taught such as colours, size and shape.
  • We find what motivates them for example – they like a set coloured car, or a set sized car, a set shaped brick….
  • We support choosing the correct attribute card. For example, your child puts on I want candy. You show two colours and say which one? See what candy they reach for then prompt to take the picture for the right colour and add to sentence strip in the right order. Use backwards chaining to correct if the words are in the wrong order to teach the right order.
  • The sentence is then handed over and the corresponding item given with the words said.

Phase 6 – Responsive requesting/ commenting

  • At this point we move beyond I want, for example – I see in response to what do you see, I hear, I have, It is, the weather is, etc
  • The goal for your child is to comment spontaneously.
  • At this stage we create an activity to comment on for example a mystery bag that we pull items out of 1 at a time creating the sentence I see each time an item comes out of the bag.
  • We demonstrate by putting the I see on the sentence strip. As your child answers this question successfully a few times we a leave delay between asking the question and the prompt, leaving your child chance to show they can do it. The goal is that your child makes the I see sentence without a prompt.
  • We then put the sentence starters I want and I see on front of book and ask questions that require this response. So your child is choosing between icons. Again if they reach for the right question starter we give a positive response yes, uh huh. If they reach for the wrong one we use the four step error corrector.
  • Other sentence starters are built up in the same way I hear, etc