Friday, January 25, 2013

Helping my daughter communicate

Ellie signs "bread".  For once, her sign looks pretty close to what Rachel Coleman demonstrates on Signing Time.  Ellie's fine motor skills are improving!

I had her a piece of toast since that is what she typically wants, well at least this week it is what she typically wants.

SCREAM! Throws bread while shaking her head "NO!"  Frantic signing of "bread".  SCREAM!

Yet, I just gave her bread.

Does she really want bread?

Yes, Ellie does want bread.  Just not toast.  Tortilla.  Croissant.  Toast.  Regular slices of bread.  Those are all breads to Ellie.

I wanted tortilla bread, mom!

This same situation occurs with cracker.  Because, you see, any large food item that she does not know the sign for is cracker.  Especially Zone Bars.  Ellie wants to communicate with me.  She is trying to communicate with me.  And I need the power of telepathy.

The breakdowns in communication are hard on both of us.  She gets frustrated and I get frustrated.  She is screaming because I don't understand her and I am feeling like the ultimate mom failure because I cannot read my 3 year-old's cues.

Ellie has learned the PEC system [picture exchange communication].  This communication system has been implemented in her school and in her ABA therapy.  I decided to do my own little Ellie-Bear version.  I used real photos as opposed the the traditional colored line drawings.  Some I took on my iPhone and others I used from the internet.  I should probably warn you that if you google "PECs" you will find some official PEC photos, but also some young men who have photographed their pectoral muscles shirtless.  Just saying!

I got a little overzealous with the laminator and velcro!  Because I laminate A LOT, my hot sexy husband got me a little laminator from Costco.  It was cheap and saved me from frequent trips to Lakeshore Learning which surely would have ended up with me spending way more money on learning tools in addition to using their laminating machine.  The photos that I use are square and I place them onto a 2.25 x 2.25 grid.

I have created a page each in a binder with these PECs--foods, activities (i.e. paints, crayons, chalk, other toys that I hide from her, iPad), places (i.e. Target, Central Market, Restaurants, Big Bounce, Parks).   Now, mind you, Ellie Bear is a big sensory seeker.  The thrill of removing items from velcro is too much for this little girl.  She will remove every single picture and then carry them to another part of the house.  Therefore, I store this binder out of reach.

When she signs and says "eat", I pull out a small strip of laminated paper with velcro on it.  I attach only a few food items (yeah, I don't want her pulling off the donut for every single meal!  Or selecting a food item that I do not have).  This gives her independence which is so important for a toddler.  She gets to choose her food.  Also, this helps prevent most, but not all, communication break downs.

When she sign's "bread", this is what it looks like:

For "cracker":

It also helps with TV shows. When she wants to watch "Potty Time" she hands me both "Signing Time" and "Potty Time".  I just laugh because, well yes, Potty Time is also by Rachel Coleman.

I have tried to upload the empty grid that I place my pictures into, but the pesky thing just will not show up in the blog post.  If you would like a copy of the grid, you may email me at thechroniclesofelliebelliebear (at) yahoo (dot) com

*Note: This does not replace Ellie's verbal communication, but is rather an adjunct to it.  She will hand you a picture while trying to say the word.   Bear is on Phase III of the system.
**The true PEC cards have the word written above the picture.  These words have helped Ellie learned to sight-read 15+ words.
*** The true PEC system is expensive.  Speak with your child's therapist about using PECs as she may provide you with the ones relevant to your child.  Or, you can create your own like me




  1. I love the Velcro idea. We have tried our own version of PECS too. I laminated a bunch of things for K, but have not updated it in quite awhile. You have inspired me to update my system, and to get some velcro going too. I like that you break down her choices too. Then again, when I give Katie crackers, we usually have one type in house! Great idea-thanks for sharing.

    1. Look out, Donna! Once you start with the velcro, you won't want to stop! I actually bring a little strip of paper with velcro with me when we go out and I attach the food choices for her. It has worked out great. You know, you are clever--I made the mistake of buying two types of crackers! Should have stuck with one!

  2. This is so our life right now too with communication. I absolutely love this idea, and I am so glad that you shared. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Deanna! I don't look at PECs as a substitution but rather as a adjunct. She still signs and makes sounds (either vowel sounds or a /b/ or a /k/). Glad to know you are using it too :-)

  3. I was reading an international travel tip about carrying around the equivalent of PEC cards in countries where you do not speak the language. That way you can ask for "bread," "police," "toilet," or whatever just by showing the card. I think there's even an iPhone app for it.

    1. GREAT idea, Michele! I wish I had thought of that when Drew and I were in Germany for our honeymoon. I didn't know any German other than to ask 'one more coffee please". Fortunately, some waiters knew Spanish so that helped :-) I wil lhave to look into the apps for it. Clever!

  4. Good stuff. Thanks for sharing. I love your new blog header!

    1. Thanks April! Those were Bear's facial expressions as I tried to capture a "great" photo for our Christmas card. Ellie is a hoot and never wants to smile when she sees the camera, the little turkey!

  5. Anna, when did you start implementing the PEC's. Stella does sign but like you stated one sign like "bread" has many different meanings! I am thinking adding PEC to Stella's signing and, of course, sound making also! Oh, I am so overwhelmed!!! Seriously, I the older Stella is getting the MORE overwhelmed I am feeling!!

    1. Ooh I hear ya, mama! I feel the same way about feeling more overwhelmed at times. We started the PEC system around the time Ellie turned 2yo. Then I ignored it. For a long time. LONG time. In ABA they create a strip of pictures to show her "the schedule" for her therapy session. After each game is completed, the remove the picture from the strip so I guess that has been going on for a year or so. The school system uses it as well and so it was restarted in mid-September. They started to teach it to her. Then I got called into a parent-teacher conference because she knew more than them on the PECs. (Ellie caught on quickly!). Just in the past 2 months I started with the above book. Actually, I started with the TV shows and then moved up to various foods.

      Ask your therapist to help you with this because it can take more than one adult to start Stella off with PECs. You need to start with Phase one. One pic of the most desirable object ever--ours was the iPad. For some, it is a food item. I sat Ellie in her high chair with the PEC in front of her. She would play with the picture. Ellie's therapist would stand behind Ellie with her hand over Ellie's. They would hand me the picture. As soon as the picture enters my hand, I giver her the iPad and say "oh, you want iPad". Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Oh and repeat. Did I mention to repeat? Slowly move further away so that she has to WALK to you to give the photo. Then you add in a few photos. Most speech therapists know how to use the PEC system and our ECI provider knew as well.

  6. Those are so great. I have been fantasizing about doing this for Cora. Her SLP even said she would do them for me if I give her a list of what I want. I so need to take advantage of that. For now, I usually only give her 1 or 2 choices and then her point to the actual food item. But it does nothing for the things that I do not show her obviously. Thanks for the inspiration.


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