Picture Exchange Communication System Hi-tech vs. Low-tech — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

Picture Exchange Communication System Hi-tech vs. Low-tech

by Emily


I originally posted this on my own blog six months ago. I’ve gotten such a great response online and have had people asking me about our low-tech PECS so often that I thought I would post here as well.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is something we’ve been working on with Chewy. Since he’s non-verbal and has motor coordination issues, he cannot sign properly. He has plenty of signs that he uses, over 40 in fact, but they aren’t all the standard ASL or baby signing type signs. He often ends up making up his own due to his dyspraxia.
There are many options, both Hi-Tech and Low. We have an iPad and iTouch for Chewy, but most of the apps geared for non-communicative kids are still a bit above what he can do. Enter our super low tech device.

The Folder.

I know, super fancy right?! But hey, it works for us.

We took pictures (along with our therapist) of all his foods, toys he loves and other day-to-day things and then had them laminated. We put some good old fashioned “hook and loop tape” [Velcro to the rest of the world] on the backs. We put the soft fuzzy side on the backs of the pictures and then put strips of the scratchy side on the folder. When the folder is closed, there is one empty strip showing so you can put what you want your child to choose from there.

At first this was overwhelming to Chewy. He just wanted to rip those pictures off and toss them, or point to each one and have us repeat back to him what it was. Over and over and over and over again. We’ve been trying really hard to stay consistent with the PECS folder but it’s a big change to go from guessing what his grunts and random signs were to giving him the folder, guessing what he wants, showing him the picture, making him take off the picture and then hand it to us. After all that we take the picture and the actual item and bring it to our face and say the word before he gets what he asked for. I won’t lie, not my favorite thing to do because it’s so time consuming when all he wants is a cookie and I know it. I need to remind myself daily that this will help. That he’ll catch on and in the future this will help him at school.

The big blue folder we have isn’t great for when we go out and about on our errands though. Certainly can get confusing and cumbersome when we go out to dinner as well. So, super OCD mom (me!) had to make a 2nd PECS folder. This is half the size of the first. I have it fold up small so it fits in my purse. Inside we just keep common “safe” foods for him that most restaurants have and a fruit bar that I almost always have on hand. I also put a picture of a cup for him to tell us when he’s thirsty, a diaper and binky in case he needs those and a picture of our car and his carseat in case he is overwhelmed and tells us he just wants to go home.

This is good to show him what will happen when we go out too. First we eat, then we go to the car. I’m hoping this will make going out to dinner a much more pleasant experience!

Do you use the PECS system? If so, is yours Hi-tech or low?

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1 Cherrylkd October 4, 2011 at 3:28 pm

We use pecs as well. We use them with non communicating children and for children who communicate a little but can’t be understood by people who don’t know them. We also use them for children with behaviour difficulties who have limited language skills.

Like yourself we have created our versions of OECD. We rarely use the real deal but we tailor the pics to each particular child. These are obviously low tech like yours. The children take them everywhere and use them at home too.

We also have some high tech ones which are on the AAC systems. These are too many to mention as you know. To operate a dynavox or similar the children use head switches or feet or hand switches. Whatever works fir them is what we use.

The aim of the game is to reduce frustration for the child and increase enjoyment, participation, understanding and learning.
Well written post.

2 Cherrylkd October 4, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I left a huge post! Think it’s got lost. The essence was that we use similar pecs system. We tailor them to meet the needs of individual children. All home made and very low tech. They work a treat. The aim is to increase enjoyment, independence and understanding for the child. Also we give them a voice.
Also use real pecs on AAC systems. Very high tech.

Interesting post.

3 Janet October 4, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Luke (3rd grade) has used PECS since kindergarten. They tried in preschool – but he wasn’t ready. The PECS is now too slow for him. There are too many icons to navigate. Now he is in the process of moving to an iPad. He is doing wonderful. They have also found that it is working better to not make him request EVERYTHING (as you often need to with ASD kiddos), but just the things the other kids would. For example he used to have to request everything out of his lunch box. He has come a long way.

4 Chaney October 6, 2011 at 8:19 am

that is pretty awesome and I admire your commitment!

5 Jodi October 6, 2011 at 1:58 pm

I love it! I have found low tech is the way to go for many of my students (I’m an SLP). RIght now I have 2 high communication lo tech kids. One has a standard PECS set up and the other had a book full of category based pages. Have you checked out the app photo tell? It is like a talking photo album and will probably be the starting point for switching some of my early communicators to voice output.

6 Elizabeth Hewatt October 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm

We started out using our own variation of the PECS system, but it got very out of control when she had 100’s of pictures. We were also told that high tech would not work for her. Then we went to a new SLP and were introduced to the VantageLite by Prentke Romich company. It is amazing and has changed our lives completely. My daughter is 11 and has had it for almost 3 years. My only regret is I didn’t know about it when she was much younger.

7 Kate J October 7, 2011 at 9:11 pm

I will echo what Elizabeth said. We started out with and used our own modified and tailored PECS, along with signing and PROMPT speech therapy, a total communication approach. We were also told (at school) that the high tech devices wouldn’t be a good fit, but sought private consultation. Once our daughter was fairly proficient with the Vantage Lite, we brought it to school and showed the staff. One of the administrators had tears in her eyes! I think what “wouldn’t work” was the school being competent to get our daughter to use the device meaningfully. They just didn’t have the training or the time to invest, and wagered that it wouldn’t be worth it anyway. Additionally, it was after working with the Vantage that our daughter’s verbal attempts greatly increased and she learned the structure of sentences. At this point she will choose the path of least resistance in communicating – she knows which modality to use with which person – signing is the quickest, verbal words work with those who are familiar and (very) patient, and the Vantage is on hand for the rest, including Grandma and more infrequent visitors. We are working now on “initiating” conversation, rather than just making requests and answering questions. Also, just got our own iPad, which has been amazingly motivating.

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