A voice without words

Franklin being non-verbal has been a huge and heartbreaking concern ever since we realised the words just weren’t coming. While my daughter does not stop speaking from the minute her eyes open, we’ve been desperately waiting, hoping and praying, to hear a word, any word, from Franklin. What mother doesn’t want to hear their child’s voice? 

What is PECS?

PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) allows people with little or no communication abilities to communicate using pictures. People using PECS are taught to approach another person and give them a picture of a desired item in exchange for that item. By doing so, the person is able to initiate communication. A child with autism can use PECS to communicate a request, a thought, or anything that can reasonably be displayed or symbolized on a picture card. PECS works well in the home or in the classroom.

PECS was introduced to us as a route for Franklin and we jumped at it. A way for him to communicate, a voice – err yes please! It can be frustrating for your child (and you) to begin with. Encouraging a child to hand you a picture card every time they want to request an item is no mean feat and requires a very specific approach with very specific steps to follow, but with a significant amount of perseverance and patience, I promise it can work miracles. PECS has also helped to reduce the high levels of frustration that Franklin experiences when he can’t express his wants and needs. We haven’t looked back since the off! 

My Tips:  

Sabotage Sabotage Sabotage! Anything your child is super keen on; a favourite toy, teddy, figure – wait for your moment, steel it, take a quick pic and immediately turn it into a PECS symbol, then try your damnedest to get them to request it back from you. 

Motivators are crucial – If your child isn’t interested in it, they aren’t going to ask for it. Food was a powerful motivator for Franklin. He loves palma violet sweets so they were a lifesaver. You can buy mini packs so I could get a good 10-15 requests with just one of those little bad boys! I dread to think how many mini palma violets Franklin has actually eaten, but it was his heavyweight motivator at the start and he hasn’t turned a shade of purple just yet so all’s good. Mini party biscuits were also a favourable option. Maybe just avoid attempting this in the evening, sugar highs are fun for no-one at bedtime! 

Cruel to be Kind – After creating a symbol of it, take their favourite toy/snack and put it up on a window ledge or shelf so it is visible but out of reach. Saunter around in front of it, do a few jumping jacks, whatever works to get your child to notice it. The temptation of seeing a desired item definitely helped Franklin want it! 

Timing – Franklin rarely did well with PECS when he was tired, grumpy, over-stimulated, etc. Choose a time when your child is happy and calm. You want it to be a positive experience for them, so they want to use it again and again. 

Label queen – I try and label anything and everything with a symbol that I think Franklin might request for now or in the future. (Don’t stand still for too long near me!). I’ve found labelling helps Franklin recognise the symbol first so it gives him a head start before I start encouraging him to request for it.  


You may hear contrasting views about which format to use with the symbols and I personally chose not to stick to 1 format – I used colour symbols, black & white, photos, border/no border etc. I mixed it up purposely so Franklin didn’t become too fixated on one style and then be unable to generalise. I’ve read many a story of children only being able to play with the green ball because the symbol was a green ball, only drinking from a pink cup because the symbol was a pink cup… you get the idea.

PECS has given Franklin a voice. He may be silent but he is deadly with his PECS book! He can now ask for most things he wants using PECS, biscuits a clear winner! 


Once Franklin got to grips with his PECS book and the process of exchanging, we forged ahead and encouraged him to make a sound, any sound however small, when exchanging. The aim being this will eventually initiate speech. I won’t ever give up hope and i’m praying the words will, one day, come and I will get to hear “mummy” from my son’s lips.


A speech and language therapist can introduce PECS and show you how to work with it. There is also a 2 day intensive PECS course offered nationwide