Using Picture Based Communication with Autistic Children

A common issue for Autistic children is their inability to communicate. For some children this is to the extent that they use few words, words out of context or no words at all. This can lead to the child being unable to communicate their needs to their carers and that can lead to the child becoming frustrated, upset and suffering meltdowns. 

Picture based communication is one example of a way to help these children.
The idea is simple, a system of cards with pictures that children can use to show their parents and carers what they want. For example, if a child is thirsty they can give their “cup” picture to their parent who will know to get them a drink.
Using picture based communication has been proven to help by lessening negative behaviour caused by frustration, giving skills to learn and interact with others and building speaking skills as picture based communication skills increase.
Perhaps the most import advantage of using a picture based communication system with autistic children is that you are teaching them to communicate spontaneously and independently.

How to start using picture based communication systems to help your child communicate

It is worth remembering that different children will relate to different types of pictures and you may need to experiment during the process to see if your child responds to photos, cartoons or representations. It is a good idea to use the same set of pictures for each setting your child is in.
Firstly, it can be an idea to think of something your child really likes such as a favourite object or toy. I am going to use a toy train as my example. You make a picture card for the toy train and teach your child that when they hand you the picture of the train, you will give them he train. You would do this sat with your child until they get the idea.
The next step is to move away from your child so they have to bring you the picture of the train to get the train. This will help your child to learn that they need to seek your attention to ask for something.
The next step may take a while and it is to introduce more pictures to your child gradually so that they distinguish between pictures and can eventually use the right picture to ask for what they want.
At this stage the pictures are working as a means of communication and if you get here you may find your child is less frustrated and finding it a little easier to communicate their needs to you.
The next steps are to introduce sentence starters to the pictures such as “I need”, then to increase this to building whole sentences and eventually answers to questions. These can take months or even years to achieve and you may need to seek professional advice.

Where to get the picture cards

It does not need to be expensive to provide picture cards for your child and there are many ways of doing it. Taking photographs of the objects and printing them out can work as can cutting pictures from magazines and sticking them to card. You could even draw them yourself if you are feeling artistic!
Alternatively, there are a wide range of picture based learning pictures on the internet, some are free and others can be purchased to print out. You can also find a wide range of pre-made cards on sites such as eBay and amazon if you search for “PECS”.

Picture based communication is often given the name of PECS but PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) is a trademarked program of Pyramid Educational Products a small corporation founded in the 1980s by Lori Frost and Andrew Bondy. Pyramid Educational Consultants produce a range of PECS products as well as training and consultation for PECS.

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