Introducing PECs In Your Home

If your child has a speech delay and you are working with a SPL, she should be able to give you some great ideas on how to introduce PECs to your child.  I have been dabbling with PECs for a couple of months now, and here is what is working for us.

The first PECs we used were a simple “Yes No” Board where Noah would point to the appropriate word, “yes” or “no.”  I went ahead and put three boards on the page.  Laminate and cut the three “yes, no” sets and place them around the house and in your purse, where ever they will be handy at a moment’s notice.

Yes No Boards

Here is the file available to customize on

We introduced this board because although Noah could sign yes and no, he would always sign the last word we spoke.  So if we said, “Do you want this, yes or no?” he would always sign no.  We could tell he was not quite grasping the concept, which is not unusual, because as common as they are, “yes” and “no” are much more abstract than cookie or milk.  We gave him the board, used hand over hand (putting our hand over his hand and guiding him to point to the obvious answer) a few times, and then he was able to point to the correct card on his own.  Each time we used the board and he made a selection, he would point to the card and I would say and sign the word.  He would either sign the word or I would again do hand over hand with him.  In a few weeks he was able to sign the word without the board, and a couple of weeks later he started vocalizing differently for yes versus no.  We still use this board when Noah is overloaded or frustrated and he is unwilling or unable to sign.  This method teaches language through three channels, visual, kinesthetic and auditory, an ideal combination for children facing challenges in their language acquisition.

Next I made some picture cards of Noah’s favorite snack choices, laminated and cut them out, placed soft-sided velcro dots on the back of the cards, and placed them on the refrigerator along with a laminated sheet of paper with a horizontal strip of  rough-sided velcro.  I first had Noah point to the card representing the snack choice that he wanted, and then assisted him in placing the card on the velcro strip.  Then I would repeat the word in a questioning tone, “Milk?  Oh, you want milk,” and he would sign the word.  When we had that system down, I introduced the “I” and “want” cards, and he began, with assistance, stringing together sentences.  Again, I would say and sign the word and he would do the same.  This was how Noah signed his first sentence, and within a few weeks he began to vocalize approximations for those words as well.

Have I mentioned that before starting this system, Noah was pretty much  NONVERBAL???  Have I mentioned that within weeks of introducing picture cards Noah is able to approximate the majority of words we ask him to (he verbalizes the beginning consonant or sometimes the vowel)?  Now, he’s not saying anything close to the word yet most of the time, but he is trying, and he is making noise!!!!  It took us 5 years to get here.  We went from 0 to about 80 in a matter of weeks.  If your child is struggling to speak, I cannot encourage you enough to introduce signing and picture cards.

Here are the printable Snack Choice Cards we use.    Snack Choices Board

Here’s the editable file

And “I” and “want” cards.   You can also use these as I Want Boards.  Just laminate and cut into rows.  Teach your child the “I” and “want” symbols, and then have them put their choice into the blank square after “I want.”

Board – I Want

I do not buy the idea that you have to communicate constantly in picture cards in order for this system to be successful.  I think there are thousands of children out there who can benefit from integrating visual learning in various applications of their daily living and learning even if they do not need the rigorous program set forth in the Picture Exchange Communication System.   So if you have been introduced to that system but you find it too aggressive or overwhelming, I encourage you to try implementing the use of picture cards in whatever areas you can.  For severely autistic children, the Picture Exchange Communication System may be their best chance for finding a voice, but if that’s not where you are at, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. 

No, that’s not a mistake, I know I’ve crossed out a paragraph of text.  The crossed-out section was part of my original post.   One of my goals for myself in writing this blog is to remain transparent.  That’s why I’m leaving those lines.  I was wrong, and thankfully it only took me a couple days to realize it.  As I read through A Picture’s Worth – PECS and Other Visual Strategies in Autism , written by Andy Bondy and Lori Frost, the creators of the Picture Exchange Communication System, it became very clear to me that if you are using PECS to enhance communication with your child in any way, it is imperitive that you read this book before discarding any of the methodology.  PECS takes into account B.F. Skinner’s work, especially as laid out in his 1957 book, Verbal Behavior.  The principals put to work in PECS are good, solid, across-the-board child- training principals.  They are the same principals I have applied in teaching my children not to whine, how to ask for what they want, how to obey, and how to get along with the world around them.  The only thing I would change about the book is the title – these are not just communication strategies appropriate for children with autism.  These strategies are appropriate for ANY child with a communication disorder or language delay, AND they are appropriately applied to all realms of raising children.  I have read many, many good books in my time; but I have to say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, this book wins the prize for having the most relevant material, the most creative ideas to springboard off of and having the clearest explanation of a procedure for learning that I have ever seen.  Whether your child has Down syndrome, autism, apraxia, or anything else that is causing you to consider pursuing visual learning strategies, this book is for you.

Let us know how implementing picture cards looks at your house.  Are you using parts of the PECS protocol, all of it, or are you doing something completely different?  What has worked, what hasn’t?


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