May 30th, 2011 by Kel

Picture Exchange

I’ve been making some references to PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) lately, and I figured I’d give a good look at that! This website gives a fairly good look at the system, as well as a success story of the child using it. 1000 words? WOW. I can only hope!

What a PECS is is a collection of pictures, readily available to the child, that they can use to exchange for what they want. It’s used as an alternative communication method for non-verbal kids who don’t show a lot of aptitude for sign (like, say, Danny refusing to sign at all). The child can choose a picture out of the book and hand it to someone (a parent, a caregiver, a teacher), and after modeling the correct words for the item and giving a moment of wait time for the child to (hopefully) mimic, they get the goods. If Danny comes to me wielding his ‘milk’ card, he places it in my hand, I show it to him and say “milk!” and wait. Sometimes he echos “ilk!” and sometimes he doesn’t. Either way, I nod. “All right, milk!” And I get him some milk.

About…oh, not quite a week ago, we received our little binder from school. It’s a duplicate of what he uses in class, with a few different cards in it to mirror things he likes at home versus things he uses at school. It skips stuff like “fish toy” (since we don’t have one of those) but includes local favorites such as “iPod,” “Pop Tart,” and “Hex Bugs.” The beginning stages of using a PECS is to offer only one or two choices, so the child isn’t overwhelmed. Slowly, you build the field, and then you inch the pictures toward the edge of the book, so eventually you can transition to having the pictures inside the binder.

When I brought it home, I picked out about 7 or 8 favorites of Danny’s, stuck them on the front, then hung it up on the pantry door. My plan was to sit down with it later (probably with John) and decide which 3 we wanted to start with. About a half hour later, the plan changed, because Danny had gone to the field of 7 and brought me the milk card, handing it to me and announcing boldly, “Ilk!”

Since then, I’ve left anywhere from 7 to 10 on the front cover for him. He obviously is able to find what he wants, identify it, and use it! I’ve had to “introduce” a couple cards to him, but most of them he seems to figure out on his own. If he knows there is a card he wants and he doesn’t find it (like the next morning, when I’d slipped the iPod card inside as I don’t let the boys play on it before school), he’ll open up the book and go through the pages to find it. This kid has this system down! I’m going crazy trying to brainstorm additional cards he might want, and have collected some supplies so that I don’t always have to go to the school to get what I want made. I also am working on putting together a small keyring of basic ones he might want when we’re out and about – milk/drink, food/eat, iPod, toy cars, diaper, and I don’t know what else yet. I’m trying to introduce a diaper card, so hopefully he’ll be able to tell me when he needs a diaper change.

This is just so…awesome. A part of me still resents it for what it is – I want my kid to talk, dangit! – but the fact that he’s able to communicate what he wants and needs so easily is amazing. Before, he was limited to things he could get his hands on and bring us, or things he could take us to and eventually get us to guess what he wants. No more! Through the day, he’ll bring me milk and pop tart (which I am using generically as food, since otherwise he’d live on a non-stop diet of Pop Tarts despite having 5 other options for food to choose from), he’ll bring me different toys he wants me to get out for him, he’ll bring me the trampoline one if he wants to bounce on the couch cushions with me or the spin one if he wants to spin around with me. He’s calming down with it, but at first, every time he gave me a card and had a successful exchange, he would giggle and bounce in place – he was just so happy he was able to get his point across!

Honestly? I’m quite nearly as happy that I can finally understand.

Still in process are a picture schedule (I’m debating if I want to do this one or not, since he doesn’t really have any problem following our lead with the schedule, and he understands when I tell him verbally what we’re doing next) and the keyring, as well as a now/not now and a first/then card that the school is making for me. Now/Not Now will let me put cards in the “not now” section that he isn’t allowed/able to exchange for (like food we don’t have or toys he’s not allowed at a given time), and First/Then will let me help him understand when he needs to wait for something (think First Diaper, Then Cars).

I’m definitely taking advantage of his school helping with making the system, but I’ve already found it’s easy to make your own. I picked up some self-sealing lamination pouches and 3′ of thin self-sticking Velcro strips at Walmart, and that’s really all your need! I can print out new pictures as needed from clip-art or photos…I know there are websites that you can get templates from, I just haven’t found them yet…and then cut them out, laminate them, and either stick a small square of Velcro on the back for home or punch a hole in the corner to place on a keyring.

Yay for communication!

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