What is PECS?
Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a well known Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) system that involves a child exchanging pictures with a partner to communicate.
PECS is an approach that I was previously trained in and used, but no longer feel comfortable using in my practice.
Why I Am No Longer Using PECS
When it comes to choosing an AAC system, I no longer recommend PECS for the following reasons:
1. PECS does not respect bodily autonomy
PECS does not respect bodily autonomy as hand-over-hand is used to support a child to make exchanges in the early stages. We know how important it is to teach children about their bodily autonomy from an early age and this approach contradicts this.
2. PECS is not a robust communication system
It is primarily used to teach the requesting of items (usually fringe vocabulary) and doesn’t focus much on other communication functions. We want our clients to be able to communicate for a variety of reasons – communication is NOT just requesting.
3. PECS does not support motor planning
The pictures are frequently put back in different places. This results in the user having to constantly relearn where the symbols are.
4. Other communication attempts are not respected
As the exchanges are what is being focused on in PECS this results in other communication attempts (e.g. non-verbal, vocalisations) not being respected. This teaches the child that only some messages are valid and that certain forms of communication are valued over others.
5. PECS does not support GLPS
The research tells us that between 75-95% of Autistic individuals are gestalt language processors (GLP). At the early stages GLPs need to be provided with more phrases/gestalts. As PECS focuses on single words this does not support their style of language development.
6. PECS teaches compliance, not communication
Methods such as withholding are often used to force a picture exchange. Communication is meant to be fun and should not cause stress and upset. PECS teaches compliance, not communication.
Every child has different communication needs and should have access to a robust communication system (high tech, light tech or a combination of both). When you are choosing an AAC system the questions you should ask yourself are:
- Does this approach respect bodily autonomy?
- Is this a robust communication system?
- Does this system allow the child to communicate for a variety of reasons?
- Is this approach likely to cause the child distress?
- Why We Model Language and Honor All Communication, instead of Using PECS® – Therapist Neurodiversity Collective (therapistndc.org)
- Why we say “no” to PECS® as an AAC system (meaningfulspeech.com)
- What Does It Mean to Model without Expectation Using AAC? – Sparking Speech
- Understanding Augmentative & Alternative Communication – Sparking Speech