As mentioned in a previous post, we are currently working with two different speech and language therapists, one through the NHS and the second we fund privately. While they do work well together, we recently had a difference of opinion if the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) or the Hanen system would be beneficial for Aara’s development. Below is our understanding of each of these methods; we are in no way experts and can only highlight the activities we used with Aara.
The PECS approach allows people with little or no communication to use pictures to communicate. A person using PECS approaches another person giving them a picture for the desired item in exchange for it. This enables an individual to initiate communication and can therefore communicate anything that can be displayed as a picture. This system can work well at home or in a classroom. For Aara we created a communication board with photographs of her beaker, fruit and ball like below
The aim was then to have Aara initiate a request by handing us one of the pictures. The problem some people find with this approach is it can be to transactional – in the sense i hand you a picture and then you give a me a reward. However for Aara when we did use the board it prompted her to initiate communication by picking up the picture, we would then sign and say the word so she was exposed to all three methods of communication.
The Hanen approach is what some people call an intervention program for parents who have a child with communication difficulties. This type of approach advocates a childs natural environment is the best way for a child to learn and therefore provide/enable communication with key people in their lives. There are various stages to this program and i am not going to pretend I know it all or any of the stages ahead of Aara’s current development. The stage we are using with Aara is called “It Takes To Talk” and within that we try and let Aara initiate and lead conversations, along with recording our interactions and reviewing them to improve Aara’s engagement. A Key strategy we are using at the moment is what is referred to as OWL Observe, Wait and Listen so if we are reading a book we wait for Aara to say/do something – it could be to say a word or turn the page. The key is to have Aara lead the interaction.
For us a mixture of these approaches worked really well. The PECS system via the communication board helped Aara with initiating communication. Before introducing the board Aara would not initiate any requests. The OWL strategy we currently use in all our day to day interactions with her, encourages Aara to finish stories/nursery rhymes, we also wait until she asks for “more” before giving her another spoonful of food. Currently Aara does communicate in a mixture of signs and single words, we are trying to move towards grouping 2/3 words in short sentences, we will keep you all posted as to how that works out.