PECS – A Picture’s Worth

A few months ago, another ordinary miracle occurred when Rhema began communicating by using pictures. Words cannot convey what a momentous event this was in our lives. She wanted rice. She casually went to her PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) book and brought her rice icon to me.
“You want rice? O.K.!”

I made her rice as fast as I could, sat her in her chair, and she ate it all. Her face was one of peace and contentment. I was amazed, truly amazed. This was one of the first times Rhema had ever communicated a desire in a way that did not involve her dragging me to the kitchen and thrusting my hand toward the refrigerator. There was no tantrum, no frustration, no guessing game between she and I.

Once before I had tried to implement PECS at home. One day I had taken snapshots of Rhema’s favorite foods and snacks and then checked out a book from the library on PECS. I ran to Staples and excitedly purchased 2 sheets of posterboard, Velcro strips, and laminating materials. I am not an arts-n-crafts-or-scrapbooking kind of girl. So this was a major project for me! While Rhema was at school, I laminated my pictures, put the Velcro on and proudly taped two large posterboards on a kitchen wall. I eagerly waited for Rhema to come home, just sure she would be just as excited as I to see that her Mommy had provided a way for her to communicate. When Rhema came home, I showed her the Wall of Food Pictures, and she promptly pulled the posterboard off the wall. Undaunted, I taped it back up only to have it ripped down seconds later by her little sister. And so it went, every time I turned my back Rhema and Hope made a game of ripping the posterboard down. By the end of the day, my magnum opus was dirty, crumpled and torn.

Thankfully Rhema was learning how to use PECS at school. I am grateful to her teachers for their unrelenting patience in working with Rhema. A little over a year ago it was difficult to even get her to look at (or attend to) a picture or symbol, and if you handed her a picture she would just throw it down. At times we were not sure that Rhema even understood what she was looking at.

Shortly after that first time Rhema requested rice at home, she surprised me again. She wanted a pancake, but we did not have a pancake icon in her PECS book. So she went and found a picture of a flat cookie and handed it to me. That was enough to clue me in to the fact that she wanted a pancake (Rhema doesn’t eat cookies). Another time, she “told” me that she wanted a taco by giving me a picture of a tortilla wrap. I was thrilled and amazed. My little girl is clever. Yet again, I had underestimated her.

After years of silence and what seemed like indifference, I was learning that Rhema was longing to communicate with us. I even discovered that she knows what she wants – when she wants a taco, she really wants a taco! How many times has she wanted a taco, and I did not know? Before she would tantrum and I would have no idea why. How frustrating it must be not to be able to express your thoughts and wants– it brings tears to me eyes thinking about it.

We still have a long way to go with PECS, but Rhema is learning. We still pray, pray, pray for spoken words, but Rhema is learning. And I am so very thankful to God.

3 thoughts on “PECS – A Picture’s Worth

  1. Pingback: More « Autism In a Word

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