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Children with Autism and P.E.C.S. Is It Any Good?

Aug 17, 2007
PECS was created by Andy Bondy and Lori Frost as a systematic way to teach children with autism and other communication difficulties to initiate communication. It has been around since the mid 1980s and is widely used with children with autism.

One of the things I like about it is that it reasonably straightforward to use and can bring about fairly rapid changes in behaviour. Children with autism by definition have difficulties with communication, these in turn can lead to behaviours that can be challenging. PECS can lead to a reduction in such behaviours.

PECS training begins with identifying what a child is most motivated by and teaching him to exchange a picture card of the item for the item itself, that is to say if the child enjoys playing with bubbles, he is taught to exchange a picture of the bottle of bubbles for the bottle, rather than simply grabbing at the bottle. Once the child succeeds at this, he is taken through several more stages in the training so that he is able to request a range of items, with a range of people.

For some children with autism this way of communicating really makes sense, and they suddenly have a way to communicate their needs that other people readily understand.

Here's one success story:

Peter, aged 6, could only say several words and was not using them in any useful sense. He was a very busy child, and knew exactly what he wanted to do. He was very independent and would get what he needed for himself, even if it meant climbing onto high shelves.

We noticed how motivated Peter was to use certain pieces of equipment, so rather than trying to move him onto other things, we allowed him to work through his interests, and made those items available to him but he would have to communicate with someone to get them.

We started using PECS with Peter at this point. We made cards for all the things he would try and get for himself, this included things like: sticky tape, staplers, glue, paper and scissors. We made them all available, but put them out of reach.

Within a couple of days, Peter had completely stopped trying to climb to reach those pieces of equipment and was happily using his PECS cards to make requests of all the adults in the room.

During the course of the next few months, Peter's behaviour completely changed. He became calmer, gave his attention to adult directed activities more readily, and became much more interested in other people in the class. PECS was also supporting him in his development of verbal language. At first Peter found some words very difficult to say, but because he was using his PECS cards as well as trying to speak, we could easily understand what he wanted and could help to model the correct way to say the word at a time when he was motivated to repeat it. His language really took off as a result.

Of course, it is difficult to know exactly what to attribute the change in behaviour to as many different approaches were tried in class. However, PECS claim that when children are able to communicate by making requests, this can have a very positive impact on their behaviour. I have experienced a number of occasions where the impact has been very noticeable.
About the Author
Alan Yau heads up the Autistic unit at a primary school in North London in
the UK where he is responsible for teaching 18 children across the whole Autistic
spectrum. See http://www.teaching-children-with-autism.com
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