The other day I opened a file on my computer called “pics” and it made me smile, laugh, sigh and pause all at the same time.
Pause to reflect on where we were and where we are now.
I am guessing most of you have folders on your computers with the same title, but I am thinking my folder is unique.
Maybe unique is not the right word – maybe different is more fitting.
It does not contain pictures of the kids, or family gatherings. Nor does it contain scenic pictures of wonderful trips.
The very first picture I opened from this folder was of a tub of Eversweet butter, followed by chocolate covered blueberries and toddler cereal bars.
There was lots of food pictures but also pictures of logos and random generic places like the grocery store and the playground. This was the folder I used to store all the images we needed for Tyson’s PECS binder.
PECS stands for Picture Exchange Communication System. It was the very first formal system of communication we used with Tyson.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with PECS, and let’s be honest, this would be the majority of people, PECS is a type of alternative/augmentative communication (AAC) system that is low tech. It is often used by individuals who have little or no verbal skills. It can also be used by individuals who are verbal but sometimes have difficulty expressing themselves verbally.
This system of communication is basically as the name suggests, whereby the individual uses a picture to communicate what they want in exchange for the item. For example, Tyson would give me a picture of goldfish crackers, I would then take the picture and in exchange, I would give him the goldfish.
Life altering stuff!!!
Before PECS, it was very hard for us to determine what Tyson wanted in the run of a day.
I have heard many people over the years say it’s hard when you have a pet and you know something is wrong but they can’t tell you what it is. Well, that’s exactly what it was like, except it was our child.
Our beautiful little toddler had no way to communicate. He also did not have the skills at the time to point, so unless it was within reach and he could get it himself, it was a guessing game as to what he wanted.
He could go to fridge or go to the cupboard if he was hungry and then we could present items he might want. So I would take two items out of cupboard and ask which one he wanted. He would push away the item he didn’t want but never touched the item he wanted. (It took us a little while to figure that one out).
He could not tell us if he wanted to watch a certain TV show or if wanted to go the park. He could not tell us if he had a belly ache or if he was scared or tired.
The moment that stands out the most is the day when he was just sitting on the couch crying. He had these big tears rolling down his cheeks and he was just sobbing. We had no idea what was wrong.
But things started to change when we introduced PECS. We started with just a few pictures of highly motivating items and added more and more pictures as he progressed. Eventually we had a PECS binder.
He had a page for food, drinks, places to go, toys, and TV shows. We started to use a sentence strip and Tyson’s requests now turned into “I want goldfish please”. It was great.
It was progress. And as an added bonus, Tyson’s frustration level went down. He could tell us, to a certain degree, what he wanted.
As time went on, we added more pages. There was pages for family members, daycare, songs, emotions, colours, numbers and right at the back of the binder, the icons for “yes” and “no”.
PECS is by no means the perfect system. Tyson could still only ask for something that we thought he wanted. So if the picture was not there, he could not ask for it. We have since moved on to an electronic AAC system called Proloquo2Go, however PECS was a great starting point. And we started using PECS about 6 months after Tyson was diagnosed and continued to use it until before he started school.
I just wanted to add, for any parents that are reading this and their child is nonverbal, please don’t be scared to use AAC, thinking it will inhibit speech. If the speech is going to come, it will come. A child will pick the path of least resistance and verbally saying a word is always easier than going to a binder, picking a picture and bringing it to an adult.
Providing a nonverbal child with the means to communicate is giving them a voice. And all children need to be heard.
Disclaimer – If you are planning on implementing PECS with your child, please consult a speech language pathologist (SLP) as they are trained in this field and can provide the guidance and tools needed.
Stay tuned for Part 2