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Gadgets & Gizmos - Part 5: PECS

When Ben was three, we started using a Picture Exchange Communication System or PECS. It is a system used widely with children with Autism. Ben has not been diagnosed with Autism, but we still find it quite useful.

PECS is a augmentative and alternative communication device, used by people with special needs. It involves using pictures and symbols to communicate needs and wants. A longer and more in depth definition and history of PECS can be found at this Wikipedia site.

To start, you need a large three-ring binder (about 3 inches wide), rolls of Velcro (more than you expect), hard plastic dividers, access to laminating machine or self-laminating sheets, scissors and camera.

We use the following categories within the PECS book:
  • Food
  • Daily Activities
  • Toys
  • Outdoor Activities
  • Places
  • People
  • Media (DVDs, books, music)
  • Self-Help Activities
The categories help us find the photos fast and return them to their correct location for use the next time. It will also help you to determine what pictures you may need.

Next, make a list of the items to photograph, find in Boardmaker or on the internet. I started with over 75 pictures and have added and deleted people, toys and foods over the years. As you can see, I mostly used real photos because Ben tends to understand them better than cartoon or drawn pictures.

The page below is in the "Food" category:

It is not often that we would allow Ben to see all these choices. Most likely it would be overwhelming for him. Typically we give him 2-3 choices.

This is the "Toy" page:

These are "Self-Help Activities:"

On the back of the book are two Velcro lines for choices. The photos of the two options are placed on the Velcro. Ben chooses which one he is interested in doing next - do a puzzle or read a book.

The front of Ben's PECS book has one Velcro line on it. It is used for letting him know the schedule. We try not to put more than three-four activities on at a time. The schedule below shows him using the potty, eating pancakes for breakfast and then brushing his teeth.

Resources for free pictures:
Beyond Autism PECS
Toy & Grocery PECS
Picture Symbols

We try to get all the therapists to use this form of communication with him. Sometimes we use the actual objects for Ben to make a choice rather than the picture. And then sometimes we get lazy with the whole system. I realize that giving Ben choices throughout his day allows for him to have control over what he is doing, wearing and eating.  Giving him power to choose what he likes makes him a happier individual. Assuming we know what he wants only leads to frustration and aggravation. In the end I know this is what he needs to become a more independent person.

If you need any assistance getting started, I would be happy to answer any questions.

Disclaimer: The equipment and tools I talk about in "Gadgets & Gizmos" is not sponsored by any company. This is not an advertisement for any product.


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