No, I'm not talking about these kind of PECS, although they are quite remarkable.

I'm talking about these kind of PECS.
If you ever come to my house you might see a bunch of these laying around, hanging on the walls, stuck to the refrigerator and in every room. We're trying out a Picture Exchange Communication System with the Doodle. They've been working on it with him at school and during his Shape appointments but it hasn't worked out too well at HOME as in the every day.

PECS is a way for nonverbal children to be able to communicate what they want or need by identifying a little picture icon and exchanging it for what they want. It sounds wonderful and in a perfect Doodle world would be an ideal way for him to communicate with us.


But we don't live in a perfect Doodle world. We live in OCD Land where the PECS icons have become an obsession. We've tried putting them in a binder, on a board, on a laminated sheet and all the Doodle wants to do is play with them and move them and reposition them and wad them up and see if he can rip them or flush them down the toilet. He got to be so crazy with wanting control of the PECS that the system became a bit of a nightmare here at home because there were too many pictures, too many choices and too many NO's.

He would see the binder on the counter and either climb up there and get it himself or insist on wanting it. Well of course I'm going to give it to him, because I think, OH GREAT. HE'S COMMUNICATING WITH ME. HE'S GOING TO GIVE ME A PICTURE RIGHT NOW OF WHAT HE WANTS.

But he can't decide. There's too many choices, too many things...and he'd rather just play with it and destroy it or throw it on the ground.

So the binder got to be a bit much and we had to hide it from him. Then I'm sitting there scratching my head and wondering how productive this can be if I have to hide it from him? Because if I hide it then no one is communicating anything with it. Maybe it's too soon.

How they do the PECS at school is more for a schedule of what is next, not so much choices...big difference.

He has a little laminated Velcro schedule that sticks to the wall out of his reach and it has the things he's going to do at school. So when it's circle time, with direction, he can go to his schedule and with supervision of the icons, take the circle time icon off the little board and walk over to circle time and sit down with the little picture in his hand. Same goes for lunch, bus, outside play. And that is working well. There. At school.

So I am now trying to figure out a way to replicate that same system here at home, but where I can control the icons and what they are. Because right now, if he gets his little hands on the outside icon, and he hands it to matter what time of day or night or what the weather might be, he expects to go outside. And it's pretty hard after he's gone to the trouble to dig out this little icon picture of "outside" and he's communicating and requesting what he wants and then I have to tell him No. He gets really mad and even more frustrated because he really, truly does not understand why I'm telling him no and he expects instant gratification especially when he's "working" for it.

Betsy had taken several pictures of his favorite foods too: Very Vanilla Soy Milk, Cheetos, Spaghetti O's, Cereal, Gold Fish Crackers, Yoplait, etc. (I know, the breakfast of champions right?) The problem with the pictures of food is if he can see them on the card he expects that we have it and that I will give it to him. NOW. But, maybe I haven't been to the grocery store in a while and God forbid we're out of Doritos, the BLUE KIND and the Doodle brings me the Doritos card! What now? With a normal child you can reason with them, redirect them, offer them something else, satisfy them with a game or bubbles or the RED Doritos. Throw autism in there and you get to run to the closest 7-11 at 8:00am or the rest of your day (and his) will be a disaster.

So I've been busy devising my plan for PECS in our home. I have printed up hundreds of icon pictures and designed cute little framed boards to be hung out of his reach with pictures of basic things he does. I bought a laminator and I'm throwing caution to the wind and hoping he will get it without constantly melting down about this.

I'm hoping after some time, he will really get it and understand it and feel better about communicating with us. And then we will all be more:


  1. Maybe we could get together and do a PECS session. Kind of like your scrapbooking thing. Our story with PECS is about the same as yours. Not successful, it turns into a toy, little pictures end up everywhere, and we end up hiding the book. Ugh! Why can't they just talk! I don't understand!! It kills me when I see little tiny kids talking, and my four year old says goo goo, ga ga.

  2. Have you tried to use PECS as schedule and tool, like to school does? Or have you tried to use a schedule book to keep your choices and schedule self contained? We find this PECS Starter book to be very helpful.

  3. Dear Angela,
    I'm a Special Educator in a Wine Country too. Sooo sorry PECS has become such a source of frustration for you both, and no wonder.I know the party line says don't take the icons out of the binder, "don't take his words away." But his mind is developing the rules of a system right now, its one of the incredible talents of autism, though I know it may not feel like it at the moment. (GoogleScholar the article "Talent in autism: hyper-systemizing, hyper-attention to detail and sensory hypersensitivity" by Simon Baron-Cohen et al.) Hide the icons of choices that are not available to him. He is developing a rule: when I give you the picture, I get what's on the picture. An absolutely intractable rule. It's not a simple expression of wants, though it does bring satisfaction, both in the activity (or the food item), and in the knowledge that the rule is "true". His melt downs are is utter despondency that he cannot rely on his rule. When he has some time to internalize the system he is working on (this may be a while), I suggest you place the "no" icon on the inside flap of his PECS binder with only one preferred item that is not available. When he hands it to you, you'll explain it's not available. He'll melt down. You'll calmly as you can say i'm sorry your frustratrated, choose again, and put it back on the inside flap. This may go on for a while, too. But you get to choose the pace. Remember, you are the expert about your son. Not the school, not your in-home support folks. Your heart will lead you faithfully. Hope this helps a little.