Tuesday, March 24, 2009

PECS or Sign Language?

The debate over whether to use the Picture Exchange Communication System or sign language with non-verbal children with ASDs continues today. The end goal is for our children to effectively communicate, right? So there are a few things to consider:
-How good are your child's fine motor skills? Would he have the ability to manipulate his hands and fingers to form signs?
-How good are your child's imitation skills? Does your child imitate actions when asked to do so? This is the way you would teach your child to sign... To imitate the sign as you show it to him.
-Do you live in an area of the country that has a signing community? While communities that sign are typically small, they do exist. If your child's only way to communicate is to sign and the only other people in his world that can communicate with him are his parents, is that fair? What happens when he gets older and wants to socialize with others but none of his peers know how to sign?
I believe sign language is beautiful and enables the individual to have strong and meaningful relationships with others. The icons for the PECS can limit language and communication, to an extent.
BUT, the majority of young, non-verbal children with Autism I have worked with picked up more easily on the PECS, mainly because the icons are more concrete representations of the learning-labels than the sign and the format of the system can be altered to suit the needs of the child (bigger photos, representative objects, etc.). And, while parents and family members will learn sign language to communicate with their loved one, if no one else in the community can understand him, he can become frustrated. But most everyone can understand a photo of a hamburger or a voice-output device requesting a hamburger (which is what the PECS will ultimately lead to).
It ultimately comes down to the ability of your child and the preference of the family. These are simply some important things to consider.

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