Book Review - PECS Manual

Book Review - PECS Manual
PECS – Picture Exchange Communication System was one of the first purchases I made when my eldest son was first diagnosed with autism. At the time he was three years old with a vocabulary of five words. The book comes in a notebook binder with handy pockets to keep your worksheets.

This consists of Phase I – VI, Additional Concepts, Other Goodies and Appendices covering about seventy-five pages. Each phase has three sections, The environment, the training steps and helpful hints.

Phase I – The physical exchange
Phase II – Expanding Spontaneity
Phase III – Picture Discrimination
Phase IV – Sentence Structure
Phase V – Responding to “What do you want?”
Phase VI – Responsive and Spontaneous Commenting

PECS was first developed for use with preschool children with autism that had little or no speech. Many professionals have started their programs with having the child look at them when they are speaking. The next step would be to reward the child for imitating sounds, with the last task being to have the child blend the sounds into words. This process can take weeks and months and utilizes alternative or augmentative systems. Another option is sign language, gestures and pointing or leading by the hand to the desired item, need or want.

PECS was developed at the Delaware Autism Program and does not involve use of expensive equipment or costly parent training. The manual can be used by teachers, families of those who have verbal disorders, residential-care providers and therapists. "Across communicative behaviors, what is elemental to PECS is that the child learns, from the very beginning of training, to initiate communicative exchanges."

"Commenting is learned and maintained by social consequences – the child labels, comments, or exclaims about something because his/her parent, teacher, etc. respond with consequences (praise, joy, hugs, etc.) that are social or interactive. Requesting, however, is learned and maintained by tangible consequences – the child is able obtain specifically what is requested."

For the first phase there needs to be a reinforcer assessment. This means picking five to eight edibles that the child/student likes. The items preferred would be picked within five seconds. For those items that were picked at least three times remove them and conduct assessment with remaining items. This continues until a pool of three to five preferred items have been determined

The same process is than done for toys, crayons and action figures. The key to this first phase is to have two trainers work with the student. They are all seated at a table with one trainer in back of the student and one in front. The preferred item is in view of the student but not able to reach just yet. There is a picture of the item between the student and the preferred item. This phase is tough because you are not to use any verbal cues. The trainers are to guide the child with physical cues and release the picture as if the child has spoken.

My youngest son started PECS concurrently with his first preschool teacher and speech therapist at a clinic. Unfortunately teachers leave so he has had to start at the beginning of the PECS training in order for the teacher and assistant to learn. I have given this copy of the PECS – Picture Exchange Communication System to my son’s teachers and assistant to peruse over school breaks.

There are diagrams explaining how this system works. The process starts as backward chaining with the trainers delaying the verbal praise until the student has released the picture into the open hand of the trainer. The helpful hints in this first phase discuss finding the right symbol system. For example the school now is using the stick figures, but my son first learned with pictures and continues to do so at home and in the clinic based therapies. Some will use black and white line drawings or product logos. Then the size of the photo is determined, usually two-inch. The trainer should wear a apron or waist pack to keep the pictures in and purchase lots of velcro! At the recent triennial IEP for Matthew the AAC Accessor suggested that the teacher utilize an apron.

Phase II has the trainer moving further away from the student and have the student remove the card from the board and hand to the trainer. The trainer can get up to make the student than have to stand up to hand the card. Verbal praise is continued with reinforcement while the exchange is in motion. A helpful hint is now to have a three-ring binder for the cards, as you move to more pictures.

These trials are continued in sessions with goals in place to decrease the number of trainers, add more cards to the mix and start conversations and sentences utilizing the PECS – Picture Exchange Communication System. The student will repeat the steps to achieve accuracy while learning a new method of conversing.

A few years ago my son was co-treated with his speech and occupational therapists at the clinic. He would occasionally pick crayons instead of bubbles and he would be presented with a sheet of paper and some crayons. This would continue even though he was displeased with this choice until he chose the correct card he wanted, which would be bubbles.

This PECS – Picture Exchange Communication System is necessary for all those who are interested in implementing this for their non-verbal child and those who work with them and need to assess, treat or visit with them on a continuing basis.

A diagram in the book shows how this process is done in an easy to understand format. Picture-take picture to materials-materials (no interruptions)-take materials to work area (no interruptions)-activity(no interruptions)-get reward-finish activity-get reward-put materials away-take picture-go back to schedule.

Adapted from my review published on Epinions

At the triennial IEP I brought along the Super Symbols Icon Talk I picked up on eBay. This might be utilized in the classroom this coming year also. Several years ago the school district loaned us the Cheap Talk 8 . This device follows my son to his school and is allowed to come home over holidays and breaks.

A computer program my son enjoyed when in the first grade was purchased by the Teacher. Stages - Alternative Assessment Strategies and Software-Based Curriculum Solutions for Learners with Special Needs. The Stages program was purchased through Assistive Technology, Inc.

The PECS Manual second edition is available at Special Needs Project. They also sell this in Spanish and have the PECS video. I highly recommend the video - we used it at the school with aides and teachers several years ago and role played what we had viewed. I sold my copy on eBay. The PECS manual seems to no longer be available at

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Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.

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