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PECS in the Preschool Special Needs Classroom

written by: Cheryl Gabbert • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 1/5/2012

Picture exchange communication systems are wonderful tools for the preschool special needs classroom. Typically used for autistic students, there are many additional uses as well. PECS pictures can be used to facilitate verbal communication through schedules, games, and social stories, as well.

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    All Preschoolers Can Benefit

    Increasing verbalization in the preschool special needs classroom is on every teacher's mind. Entering at the age of three, many developmentally delayed preschoolers begin school with a limited amount of language skills. PECS pictures, or Picture Exchange Communication Systems can be utilized in the preschool special needs classroom with autistic students, as well as other students with limited communication skills.

    You can purchase the actual PECS program, or make pictures yourself from computer graphics, photos, or pictures from magazines. However you choose to implement the program, picture communication for preschoolers can be great for the whole class.

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    The Preschool Picture Schedule

    Autistic preschoolers are children who are challenged in communication. Different children will be on many different levels in their development, but all will benefit from some language reinforcement activities. In the early childhood setting, you will most likely begin using picture communication at a very basic level. A schedule using pictures shows children what will happen next.

    PECS has circle time pictures, lunch, bus, as well as other pictures that can represent "what happens next". Display in order from first activity to last, and tell the children what is coming up next, so that students connect the picture with the verbalization. Picture schedules work well with autistic, children with other autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, as well as other non-verbal or speech delayed children.

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    A Place to Start

    Discover what a child's favorite activity, food, or toy is, and make PECS pictures that represents that item. Give the card to the child to hold and encourage him to give you the card when he wants the activity. Ask at an appropriate time, so that he may also learn when the item is available.

    Since many autistic children have trouble understanding that they can make their own choices and communicate them to others, using pictures to represent a chosen item is beneficial in helping the child make choices, and then communicating these choices to parents or teachers.

    Once the child begins doing this, move further away so that the child must walk over to you and hand you the card. You'll be teaching the child that he must sometimes obtain someone's attention when he wants something.

    Next, you'll add more picture exchange communication cards to the child's set, and he will choose from them in order to obtain a desired item. He will make a choice from a set of pictures and give you the card that symbolizes the chosen activity, food, or toy.

    From this point you might even wish to make sets of cards for the child to use at school as well as at home. You could place each set in a book or on a keychain to keep them together, and laminate for extra durability. Introduce the items one at a time, and add to the appropriate set. Before long, the child will have a wide range of items to work with, and will be able to use picture communication to share many of his desires with his teachers and parents.

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