A type of augmentative and alternative communication technique where individuals with little or no verbal ability learn to communicate using picture cards.  Children use these pictures to vocalize a desire, observation, or feeling.  Since some people with autism tend to learn visually, this type of communication technique has been shown to be effective at improving independent communication skills leading, in some cases, to gains in spoken language.

In Phase One, a communication trainer works with the child and his or her caregivers to help decide which images would be most motivating.  For example, images of food may elicit the strongest response.  Cards are then created (or provided through a pre-made book) with those images, and the trainer and the caregiver work with the child to help him or her discover that, by handing over the card, they can get the desired object.  In Phase Two, the caregiver then moves farther away from the child when showing the picture so that the child must actually come over and hand over the card to receive the food reward.  This process engages the child's ability to seek and obtain another person's attention.  In this way, a full vocabulary and methods for using these new words are taught to the affected individual.

In later phases, children are given more than one image so that they must decide which ones to use when requesting an item.  Throughout the process the number of cards grows, and consequently, the child's vocabulary also increases.  Over time, the child may develop the ability to use sentences, including phrases like "I want" to start off the sentence and even use descriptors like "large" or "red."  Throughout the process, which may take weeks, months or years, the caregiver gives constant feedback to the child.  It is thought that by allowing children to express themselves non-verbally, the children are less frustrated and non-desirable behaviour, including tantrums, is reduced.

If your child is on the waiting list for the CHEO Autism Intervention Program (for IBI Therapy) then there are workshops that you can attend, including one on PECS.  Click here to find out more.

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