Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) has emerged as a powerful tool for promoting communication in non-verbal or minimally verbal individuals.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
November 1, 2023

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

Introduction to PECS

Understanding Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and How PECS Supports Communication for Individuals with Autism

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a widely recognized and effective form of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). It was developed specifically for individuals with autism and other communication difficulties. PECS provides a structured approach to communication, using pictures or symbols to facilitate meaningful interactions and build language skills.

Understanding Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

PECS is based on the principle that individuals with autism can effectively communicate through a visual exchange of pictures or symbols. It was created by researchers Andrew S. Bondy, Ph.D., and Lori Frost, M.S., CCC-SLP, in the late 1980s as an alternative to traditional spoken language.

PECS uses a step-by-step approach to teach individuals how to initiate communication through the exchange of a picture or symbol with a communication partner. The system focuses on building functional communication skills, allowing individuals to make requests, comment, and engage in social interactions.

One of the key features of PECS is its flexibility. It can be adapted to meet the unique needs and abilities of each individual. The system is designed to promote the development of speech and language skills, but it can also be used as a standalone communication method for individuals who may not develop verbal speech.

How PECS Supports Communication for Individuals with Autism?

PECS plays a crucial role in supporting communication for individuals with autism. It provides a structured and systematic approach that helps individuals overcome communication barriers and develop functional language skills. Here are some ways in which PECS supports communication for individuals with autism:

  1. Facilitates Communication Initiation: PECS teaches individuals how to initiate communication by actively requesting desired items, activities, or expressing their needs and preferences. This empowers individuals with autism to have a voice and actively participate in their environment.
  2. Builds Language Skills: Through the use of pictures or symbols, PECS helps individuals expand their vocabulary and develop sentence structure. As individuals progress through the different phases of PECS, they learn to combine symbols to form more complex requests and comments.
  3. Enhances Social Interactions: PECS promotes social interactions by facilitating communication exchanges with others. It helps individuals with autism engage in meaningful conversations, share experiences, and establish connections with peers, family members, and caregivers.
  4. Reduces Frustration: By providing a means of communication, PECS reduces frustration and challenging behaviors often associated with the inability to express needs and desires. It gives individuals a reliable and effective way to communicate, leading to improved emotional well-being and overall quality of life.

PECS is a valuable tool that empowers individuals with autism to effectively communicate and engage with the world around them. By understanding the fundamentals of PECS and its impact on communication, caregivers and professionals can provide the necessary support to individuals with autism on their journey towards enhanced communication skills.

The Components of PECS

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) consists of several distinct phases that help individuals with autism develop their communication skills.

Each phase builds upon the previous one, gradually expanding the individual's ability to communicate effectively using pictures. Let's explore the four main phases of PECS: Phase 1: The Physical Exchange, Phase 2: Expanding Spontaneity, Phase 3: Discrimination and Generalization, and Phase 4: Sentence Structure.

Phase 1: The Physical Exchange

In Phase 1 of PECS, individuals are introduced to the concept of communication exchange. They are taught to exchange a picture of a desired item with a communication partner in order to obtain that item.

This phase focuses on teaching the physical act of handing over a picture card, known as a PECS symbol, to initiate communication. The communication partner then honors the individual's request by giving them the desired item. This process helps individuals associate communication with obtaining their needs and desires.

Phase 2: Expanding Spontaneity

Once individuals grasp the concept of exchanging pictures, Phase 2 focuses on expanding their communication skills by encouraging more spontaneous communication. In this phase, individuals are taught to use PECS symbols to initiate communication without the presence of the desired item.

They learn to express their wants, needs, and preferences by selecting and presenting the appropriate picture card to their communication partner. This phase promotes individuals' independence and their ability to initiate communication in various contexts.

Phase 3: Discrimination and Generalization

Phase 3 of PECS emphasizes discrimination and generalization skills. Individuals learn to differentiate between various PECS symbols and use them appropriately in different environments or with different people.

They are encouraged to understand that different symbols represent different items or actions and to select the appropriate symbol based on the context. This phase helps individuals generalize their communication skills beyond specific situations, enabling them to communicate effectively with a range of communication partners and in various settings.

Phase 4: Sentence Structure

The final phase of PECS focuses on developing sentence structure and more complex communication. Individuals are taught to combine multiple PECS symbols to form simple sentences or phrases. By arranging the symbols in a specific order, they can convey more detailed messages and express their thoughts and feelings more effectively. This phase encourages the development of grammatical structure and language expansion.

Each phase of PECS is designed to build upon the previous one, gradually expanding an individual's communication abilities. It is important to work with a qualified professional who specializes in PECS training to ensure proper implementation and progress through each phase.

By following the structured progression of the PECS program, individuals with autism can develop their communication skills, enhance their independence, and engage more effectively with the world around them.

Benefits of Using PECS

Implementing the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) can bring about various benefits for individuals with autism. By utilizing PECS as a means of communication, individuals can experience improvements in their communication skills, independence and autonomy, as well as a reduction in frustration and challenging behaviors.

Enhancing Communication Skills

PECS provides individuals with autism a structured and visual method of communication, allowing them to express their needs, wants, and thoughts effectively. Through the use of PECS symbols, individuals can learn to initiate communication and engage in meaningful interactions with others. This enhances their ability to convey messages, make requests, and share information, fostering greater social interaction and connection.

By utilizing PECS, individuals with autism can develop and strengthen their receptive and expressive language skills. They learn to associate symbols with specific objects, actions, and concepts, expanding their vocabulary and understanding of language. As communication abilities improve, individuals may also experience increased confidence and self-esteem.

Promoting Independence and Autonomy

One of the key advantages of PECS is its emphasis on promoting independence and autonomy for individuals with autism. By enabling individuals to communicate their needs and desires, PECS empowers them to make choices and participate more actively in their daily lives.

Through the use of PECS schedules and visual supports, individuals can enhance their understanding of routines, tasks, and expectations. This promotes a sense of predictability and structure, enabling individuals to navigate their environment more effectively. Additionally, PECS facilitates the development of self-help skills, such as requesting assistance, making choices, and engaging in daily activities independently.

Reducing Frustration and Challenging Behaviors

Communication difficulties can often lead to frustration, anxiety, and challenging behaviors for individuals with autism. PECS provides a reliable and effective means of communication, which can significantly reduce frustration and the associated challenging behaviors.

By using PECS to express their needs, individuals can effectively communicate their desires, thereby reducing the likelihood of tantrums, aggression, and self-injurious behaviors. With the ability to communicate their wants and needs, individuals experience increased satisfaction and a decreased sense of helplessness.

Furthermore, the use of PECS can improve individuals' ability to understand and follow instructions, leading to a reduction in non-compliant behaviors. This contributes to a more positive and harmonious environment, enhancing the overall well-being of individuals with autism.

By recognizing the numerous benefits of PECS, individuals with autism and their caregivers can actively incorporate this communication system into their daily routines. Through the enhancement of communication skills, promotion of independence, and reduction of frustration, PECS plays a crucial role in improving the quality of life for individuals with autism.

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Implementing PECS

Once you have a good understanding of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and its benefits, it's time to explore how to implement PECS in practical settings. This section will guide you through the process of getting started with PECS, creating a PECS communication system, and using PECS in everyday situations.

Getting Started with PECS

Getting started with PECS involves several key steps to ensure a successful implementation. It's essential to begin with a comprehensive assessment of the individual's communication needs and abilities.

This assessment will help determine the appropriate starting point within the PECS phases. It may be beneficial to consult with professionals, such as speech therapists or behavior analysts, who have experience with PECS training. They can provide guidance and support throughout the implementation process.

Creating a PECS Communication System

Creating a PECS communication system involves assembling the necessary materials and developing a structured approach to communication. The system typically includes a set of PECS symbols, a communication book or binder, and a designated space for displaying the symbols.

The symbols can be either pre-made or customized to reflect the individual's specific needs and preferences. It's important to organize the symbols in a way that is accessible and easy to use. This may include using a visual schedule or PECS schedule to help the individual understand daily routines and activities.

Using PECS in Everyday Situations

Using PECS in everyday situations is crucial for promoting effective communication. It's important to provide ample opportunities for the individual to practice using PECS across different environments and with various communication partners. Consistency and repetition are key during this phase.

Here are some tips on using PECS in everyday situations:

  1. Modeling: Model the use of PECS by demonstrating how to select a symbol and exchange it with a communication partner. This helps the individual understand the purpose and process of PECS.
  2. Reinforcement: Provide positive reinforcement, such as praise or a preferred item, when the individual successfully uses PECS to communicate their needs or wants. This encourages continued use and reinforces the effectiveness of the system.
  3. Expanding Vocabulary: Gradually introduce new symbols and expand the individual's vocabulary within the PECS system. This helps to increase their ability to express a wider range of thoughts and desires.
  4. Generalization: Encourage the individual to use PECS in various settings and with different communication partners. This helps to generalize the skills learned during PECS training and promotes independence in communication.

Remember, implementing PECS requires patience and consistent practice. It's important to monitor progress, make necessary adjustments, and collaborate with professionals and caregivers to ensure the individual's communication needs are effectively met.

Supporting Individuals with PECS

When it comes to supporting individuals with Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), there are several strategies and tips that can help encourage communication and maximize success. Additionally, collaborating with professionals and caregivers can provide valuable support and guidance. Let's explore these aspects further.

Strategies for Encouraging Communication

Encouraging communication is a vital aspect of supporting individuals using PECS. Here are some effective strategies to foster communication:

  1. Modeling: Model the use of PECS by using pictures yourself and reinforcing the exchange of pictures with individuals. This helps them understand the purpose and potential of the system.
  2. Visual Prompts: Use visual prompts, such as visual schedules or choice boards, to support individuals with autism in understanding and expressing their needs and preferences.
  3. Consistency: Maintain consistency in using PECS across different environments and with different communication partners. This consistency helps individuals develop confidence and understanding of the system.
  4. Reinforcement: Provide positive reinforcement when individuals successfully use PECS to communicate. This can be in the form of praise, preferred items, or access to preferred activities, reinforcing the importance and effectiveness of communication.

Tips for Success with PECS

To optimize the use of PECS and ensure success, consider the following tips:

  1. Individualization: Tailor the PECS system to the individual's specific needs and preferences. Customize the symbols and organization to maximize their understanding and engagement.
  2. Consistent Availability: Make sure that PECS materials, such as communication boards or binders, are readily available and easily accessible to the individual. This promotes independent use and encourages communication initiation.
  3. Gradual Progression: Progress through the different PECS phases gradually, allowing individuals to develop their communication skills at their own pace. Each phase builds upon the previous one, expanding their communication abilities.
  4. Training and Support: Seek professional guidance and training in implementing PECS effectively. Collaborate with speech therapists, behavior analysts, and other professionals experienced in PECS to gain insights and strategies tailored to the individual's unique needs.

Collaborating with Professionals and Caregivers

Collaboration with professionals and caregivers plays a crucial role in supporting individuals with PECS. Here are some ways to foster collaboration:

  1. Team Meetings: Regularly schedule team meetings to discuss the progress, challenges, and adjustments related to the implementation of PECS. This allows for open communication and shared decision-making.
  2. Sharing Information: Provide professionals and caregivers with information about the individual's progress, preferences, and any specific communication goals. This exchange of information ensures a consistent approach across different environments.
  3. Training Opportunities: Encourage professionals and caregivers to participate in PECs training sessions and workshops to enhance their understanding and implementation of PECS. This shared knowledge promotes a unified approach and consistent support.

Effective collaboration between professionals, caregivers, and individuals with autism helps create a supportive and cohesive environment for communication development with PECS.

By implementing strategies, utilizing helpful tips, and collaborating with professionals and caregivers, individuals with autism can receive the necessary support to effectively communicate using PECS. Remember, every individual is unique, and it's important to tailor the strategies and approaches to their specific needs and abilities.


The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) has revolutionized communication for individuals with limited verbal abilities. This evidence-based and highly customizable approach empowers non-verbal or minimally verbal individuals to express themselves, engage in social interactions, and reduce frustration.

As professionals and caregivers work collaboratively to implement PECS, they provide a powerful means for individuals to connect with the world around them, offering a brighter and more inclusive future.