Sunday, 1 April 2012

I can...use PECS and more!

Isn't it wonderful that there are so many options available for kids who use AC?  Everyday there are new products and strategies developed to help kids become more successful and independent communicators!  In this issue we are happy to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day (April 2nd, 2012) and explore AC as it relates to people with autism and other developmental disabilities!

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a widely used approach for children who struggle to develop language.  It involves teaching an individual to give a picture of a desired item to a communication partner, who immediately honors the exchange as a request.  For more information and training opportunities on the use of this approach:

How do I know whether PECS is right for my child? PECS is often introduced with individuals who have difficulty initiating communication with others. According to Bondy & Frost who initially developed PECS, the actual exchange of the picture (handing the picture to the parent or teacher) increases the child's communicative intent more successfully than simply having the child point to a picture in a labelling fashion.

Who teaches PECS?  PECS may be introduced by a Speech Language Pathologist or a Service Provider from the Autism Program who has received PECS training. PECS includes 6 phases, beginning with requesting items through an exchange and moving through expanding the exchange (often referred to as "distance & persistence"), discriminating between pictures, building sentence structure, responding to questions and commenting. The introduction of PECS often requires 2 trainers offering multiple opportunities throughout the day to teach the skills involved.

Are there courses locally to learn it?  Here  is a link to upcoming courses offered by PECS Canada:

Talk to your clinicians about the benefits of PECS for your child.

Example of PECS

Beyond PECS....
How do you know if someone is ready to try something more?  Take a look at some of these indicators that suggest that a student may be ready to try voice output.  
1.  Your student communicates the following intent - with or without symbols:
  • Refuses or Rejects things he/she does not like or want
  • Requests things he/she wants
  • Confirms if you say something he/she agrees with
  • Communicates a greeting or goodbye 
  • Attracts attention in someway when he/she wants attention
  • Responds to questions
  • Makes comments
  • Asks questions
2.  Your student has a binder of symbols or photographs that is no longer portable.  If you student is successfully using a large number of symbols to communicate via the PECS system, he or she may need a more portable solution.

3.  Your student communicates with conventional gestures such as showing, handing items,  pointing to items and does this with more than one partner.
Transitioning to a Speech Generating Device
Talk with your child's team when considering the move to an SGD.  To set your student up for success be sure to consider the following:

Symbol set - Use the same symbol set on the speech generating device as with the current communication system (e.g., symbol system, PECS).  If not, ensure that your student can discriminate the new symbol set.

Voice intelligibility – The speech recorded or programmed on the speech generating device needs to be easy to understand and phonetically pronounced.

Portability – The size, weight, carrying case impact the functional use and portability of SGDs.

Access – Can your student easily physically target the buttons on the device?

Backup system – During the transition period and beyond ALWAYS maintain the low tech (symbol based) communication system in case of device breakdown.

The above examples are taken from information collated by Tracy Shepherd (TVCC ACS SLP) and Stacy McDougall (TVCC ACS SLP) and originally developed by Children's Treatment Network of Simcoe York and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital (2011) and PECS Manual reference from 2nd page of handout.

If you are interested in finding out more about communication solutions for your student, talk with your Speech Language Pathologist, service provider from the Autism Program or your ACS clinician.  For more information about the use of AC by students with Autism:

Pics, PECS or PCS? What are you talking about?
These 3 labels are often used interchangeably by people talking about symbol systems. "Pics" is a general abbreviation for "picture symbols" or "pictures" and does not represent any specific strategy or system. "PIC" is also Pictogram Ideogram Communication (PIC), a symbol set which consists of 400 white on black symbols designed to reduce figure-ground discrimination difficulties. "PECS" is the Picture Exchange Communication System, as discussed above. "PCS" are Picture Communication Symbols - the symbol set found in Mayer Johnson's Boardmaker software products.

No Tech Ideas
Visual schedules are often used to help kids understand what is happening in their day.  They also offer an opportunity to introduce kids to the concepts of using symbols by reinforcing the association between the activity and the symbol.  For more information on visual schedules:
For more information on some apps for visual schedules:

Social stories are used to help kids understand social situations that they may find challenging.  For more information and resources on social stories check out the following websites:, 

Light Tech Ideas

The Proxtalker is a communication aid that was developed for a child who had excellent success with PECS but struggled to use a dynamic display device. Watch this video for a demo of how it works:  If you are a TVCC client and want to look at this device, talk with your ACS clinician.

High Tech Ideas
Speaks4me - software that allow users to drag and drop images to a virtual sentence strip.  This software can be loaded onto a computer or a tablet.  For more information:

Zac Browser - a computer browser that was specifically designed for children with autism.  For more information:

I a Star!

In this issue we celebrate Liam's success in using PECS and an iPod with Proloquo2Go. Liam's mom shares her thoughts about their journey with Augmentative Communication:

"By the time Liam was 3, he was formerly diagnosed with ASD and not able to point or nod his head "yes" or "no".  Liam is primarily nonverbal, with the exception of being able to say "mom" and "hi".  It was difficult as a parent to understand his needs and more importantly more frustrating for Liam not to be able to express himself. Tantrums were quite common and his ability to communicate was non-existent.  At the age of 4, Liam was enrolled in a research program studying the use of PECS in developing speech in Autistic children.  Liam learned how to use PECS quite quickly and he was able to tell us what he wanted.  We got Liam an iPod and Proloquo2Go app (P2Go) just before he turned 5.  Because Liam is electronically savvy, he adapted to the P2Go program in a matter of seconds.  Just like PECS, Liam still builds his sentence and is required to gain the attention of the person he is communicating with.  The iPod allows us to quickly add vocabulary/pictures when need be, which is way more convenient and less time consuming than creating PECS and laminating.  To amplify the sound of his iPod, we bought a speaker case to put it in.  Not only does it make the volume louder, it protects the iPod as well.  Although Liam communicates primarily with his iPod, he reverts back to his PECS binder when the occasion arises (i.e. when the iPod is charging).  We strongly recommend having both, because it is nice to have a backup.  With having both devices for communication, Liam's vocabulary has grown immensely and he now has a voice."

Upcoming Events
Community Alliance for Developmental Disabilities and Autism (CADDA) Conference
April 25-26, 2012
Hellenic Community Centre

International Society of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) Conference
July 28-Aug 4th ,2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Save the Date! 
August 13 - 17, 2012 
Calling all TVCC clients who want a chance to shine on the stage with Original Kids Theatre Company! Setting the Stage and On With the Show are theatre camps where all of outstanding actors use a speech generating device to deliver their lines in 6 short plays.

  • Setting the Stage is a half-day morning camp (Monday through Friday, 9.00 a.m – 12.00) for younger children who are learning to use devices and who need lots of support.
  • On With the Show (afternoons, 1.00 p.m. – 4.00 p.m.) is for those who are more independent with device use.
Contact your TVCC clinician if your child uses a speech-generating device and would enjoy the opportunity to act on stage with the Original Kids. For more information, please contact Sandra Ryall, Administrative Assistant in the Augmentative Communication Service at 519 685 8700 ext. 53478, or e-mail