Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

February 19, 2024

Communication is essential for everyone, and those who can't speak may feel isolated and unable to express their needs and desires. That's where the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) comes in.

Understanding PECS

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a widely recognized and effective method used to enhance communication skills in individuals with autism. PECS provides a structured approach to communication, utilizing visual aids to support expressive and receptive language development.

What is the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)?

PECS is a systematic approach that enables individuals with autism to communicate their needs, wants, and thoughts using pictures. It was developed by Andy Bondy, PhD, and Lori Frost, MS, CCC-SLP, in the late 1980s. PECS is based on the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) and emphasizes the use of visual supports to facilitate communication.

The core component of the PECS system is a communication book or binder that contains a series of symbols or pictures representing various words or concepts. These pictures are typically tangible, highly motivating, and relevant to the individual's daily life. The individual learns to initiate communication by selecting a picture from the book and exchanging it with a communication partner in exchange for the desired item or action.

How Does PECS Work?

PECS follows a six-phase teaching protocol that gradually builds upon the individual's communication skills. Here is a brief overview of the phases involved in the PECS process:

  1. Phase 1: Picture Exchange Initiation: The individual learns to initiate communication by reaching for or handing a picture to a communication partner in order to request a desired item.
  2. Phase 2: Picture Discrimination: The individual learns to choose between two or more pictures to make a request. This phase helps develop the ability to discriminate between different symbols and make choices.
  3. Phase 3: Picture Discrimination with Distal Prompting: The individual continues to practice picture discrimination, but with the communication partner placing the pictures further away. This helps promote independence and generalization of skills.
  4. Phase 4: Sentence Structure: The individual begins to construct simple sentences using sentence strips or sentence starters. This phase focuses on expanding communication skills and forming more complex requests.
  5. Phase 5: Responsive Requesting: The individual learns to respond to questions or requests from the communication partner. This phase encourages reciprocal communication and social interaction.
  6. Phase 6: Commenting and Answering Questions: The individual develops the ability to comment on their environment, answer questions, and engage in more advanced forms of communication.

Throughout the PECS process, it is essential to provide reinforcement and positive feedback to motivate the individual to continue using the system. Additionally, regular practice and consistency are crucial for the successful implementation of PECS.

By understanding the fundamentals of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), parents and caregivers can support their child's communication development and create a bridge to effective communication, promoting greater independence and social interaction.

Benefits of PECS for Autism

PECS, or the Picture Exchange Communication System, offers several significant benefits for individuals with autism. This section explores the advantages of using PECS as a communication tool.

Enhancing Communication Skills

One of the primary benefits of PECS is its ability to enhance communication skills in individuals with autism. By using visual symbols or pictures, PECS provides a structured and systematic approach to communication. It helps individuals develop essential language skills, including requesting, commenting, and initiating social interactions.

Using PECS allows individuals with autism to communicate their needs, wants, and thoughts effectively. It provides them with a visual representation of objects, actions, and ideas, enabling them to express themselves in a way that is understandable to others. Through consistent use and practice, individuals can expand their vocabulary and develop more complex communication skills.

Promoting Independence and Self-Expression

PECS also promotes independence and self-expression in individuals with autism. By using pictures to communicate, individuals can express their preferences, make choices, and assert their autonomy. This fosters a sense of empowerment and self-confidence, enabling them to actively participate in various activities and make decisions in their daily lives.

PECS can be particularly beneficial for individuals who struggle with verbal communication. It provides them with an alternative means of expressing themselves, reducing their reliance on others to understand their needs and desires. This newfound independence can have a positive impact on their overall well-being and quality of life.

Reducing Frustration and Challenging Behaviors

Another significant benefit of PECS is its ability to reduce frustration and challenging behaviors commonly associated with autism. Communication difficulties can often lead to frustration, anxiety, and meltdowns in individuals with autism. However, by providing a visual system for communication, PECS helps minimize these challenges.

By using PECS, individuals can effectively communicate their needs, which reduces the frustration that arises from being misunderstood or unable to express themselves. This, in turn, can lead to a decrease in challenging behaviors, such as tantrums or aggression, as individuals are empowered to communicate their needs and wants successfully.

The benefits of PECS for individuals with autism extend beyond communication alone. It promotes independence, self-expression, and can help reduce frustration and challenging behaviors. By implementing PECS as a communication tool, parents and caregivers can support and enhance the communication skills and overall well-being of individuals with autism.

Getting Started with PECS

Implementing the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) can be a transformative step in supporting communication for individuals with autism. Getting started with PECS involves assessing readiness, implementing PECS at home, and working with professionals for guidance and support.

Assessing Readiness for PECS

Before introducing the PECS approach, it's important to assess the individual's readiness for this communication system. Some key factors to consider include:

  • Motivation: Determine if the individual demonstrates an interest in communicating and has a desire to engage with others.
  • Visual Skills: Assess the individual's visual skills, such as the ability to attend to and discriminate between pictures or symbols.
  • Physical Skills: Evaluate the individual's motor skills, including the ability to reach for and manipulate pictures or symbols.

By assessing these readiness factors, you can determine if the individual is likely to benefit from and engage with the PECS system.

Implementing PECS at Home

Implementing PECS at home can provide a consistent and supportive environment for the individual with autism. Here are some steps to consider when introducing PECS:

  1. Start with a Communication Book: Create a communication book or binder that contains a variety of pictures or symbols representing desired items, activities, or requests. This book will serve as the foundation for the PECS system.
  2. Teach the Exchange: Begin by teaching the individual how to exchange a picture or symbol from the communication book for an item or activity they desire. Start with highly motivating items to increase motivation and success.
  3. Expand Communication Abilities: Gradually introduce more complex requests and encourage the individual to use the communication book in different settings and with various communication partners.
  4. Reinforce Communication: Provide positive reinforcement and praise when the individual successfully uses PECS to communicate. This helps to reinforce the behavior and encourages continued use of the system.

Implementing PECS at home requires consistency, patience, and repetition. Creating a supportive environment that encourages communication and practice will greatly enhance the effectiveness of the system.

Working with Professionals for Support

Collaborating with professionals who have experience in using PECS can be invaluable in supporting the individual's progress. These professionals may include speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, or special education teachers. They can provide guidance, training, and ongoing support to both the individual and their family. Some ways professionals can assist include:

  • Assessment and Individualized Planning: Professionals can conduct assessments to determine appropriate goals and strategies for implementing PECS. They can also develop individualized communication plans based on the individual's specific needs.
  • Training and Education: Professionals can provide training sessions to teach parents and caregivers how to effectively use PECS with their child. They can also offer workshops or educational materials to deepen understanding and knowledge of the system.
  • Progress Monitoring and Adjustments: Professionals can regularly monitor the individual's progress with PECS and make necessary adjustments to the communication plan as needed. They can provide feedback and guidance to ensure continued progress and success.

Collaborating with professionals allows for a comprehensive and well-rounded approach to implementing PECS, ensuring the best possible outcomes for the individual with autism and their family.

By assessing readiness, implementing PECS at home, and seeking professional support, parents can create a supportive environment where their child can thrive and develop effective communication skills through the use of the Picture Exchange Communication System.

Tips for Success with PECS

To effectively implement the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and maximize its benefits for individuals with autism, there are a few key tips to keep in mind. These tips can help parents and caregivers create a supportive environment and facilitate successful communication using PECS.

Creating a PECS Communication Book

One of the essential tools for implementing PECS is a communication book. This book serves as a visual aid and storage system for the picture cards used in the exchange process. Here are some tips for creating a PECS communication book:

  • Start with a sturdy binder or notebook that can hold the picture cards securely.
  • Divide the book into sections based on different categories or activities, such as food, toys, or daily routines.
  • Use clear page protectors or Velcro strips to attach the picture cards to each page.
  • Ensure that the picture cards are easily visible and accessible to the individual using the book.
  • Regularly update and expand the book with new vocabulary and concepts as the individual's communication skills progress.

Establishing a Routine for Practice

Consistency and routine play a crucial role in the success of PECS. Establishing a regular practice schedule helps individuals with autism become familiar with the system and develop their communication skills. Consider the following tips for incorporating PECS practice into daily routines:

  • Set aside dedicated time each day for PECS practice, preferably during calm and focused periods.
  • Start with short practice sessions and gradually increase the duration as the individual becomes more comfortable with the system.
  • Choose activities or situations that the individual enjoys and finds motivating to increase engagement and participation.
  • Involve other family members or caregivers in the practice sessions to reinforce consistency and provide additional support.

Reinforcing and Expanding Communication

Reinforcement and expansion of communication are integral to the success of PECS. By encouraging and rewarding communication attempts, individuals with autism are motivated to continue using the system and develop their language skills. Consider the following tips for reinforcing and expanding communication with PECS:

  • Provide immediate positive reinforcement, such as praise, a favorite toy, or a preferred activity, when the individual initiates communication using PECS.
  • Gradually increase the complexity of the communication by introducing new vocabulary and concepts in the PECS system.
  • Encourage the individual to use PECS in various settings and with different communication partners to generalize their skills.
  • Seek guidance from professionals, such as speech therapists or educators, for strategies to expand communication and address specific challenges or goals.

By following these tips, parents and caregivers can create a supportive environment for the successful implementation of PECS. Remember that each individual with autism is unique, and it may take time and patience to find the most effective strategies that work for them. Regular practice, consistency, and ongoing support are key to maximizing the benefits of PECS for individuals with autism.

Additional Resources and Support

When it comes to implementing the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) for individuals with autism, there are various resources and support available to help parents and caregivers navigate the journey effectively. Utilizing these resources can provide valuable guidance and enhance the overall success of using PECS as a communication tool.

Online Resources for PECS

The internet offers a wealth of information and resources for parents interested in learning more about PECS and how to implement it. Online resources provide access to articles, videos, and downloadable materials that can assist in understanding the principles behind PECS and offer practical tips for implementation.

Resource Description
PECSUSA Official website providing information, training, and resources related to PECS.
Autism Speaks Comprehensive website with a section dedicated to PECS, offering articles, videos, and tips for parents.
The National Autism Association Online resource hub featuring information on PECS and other communication strategies.

Joining Support Groups and Communities

Connecting with other parents and caregivers who have experience with PECS can offer valuable support and insights. Joining support groups and online communities provides a forum for sharing experiences, asking questions, and receiving support from like-minded individuals.

Support Group/Community Description
Autism Support Network Online platform with discussion boards and forums for parents of children with autism.
Parent Support Groups Local support groups that focus on autism and communication strategies like PECS. Check with local autism organizations or schools for information on available groups.
Social Media Groups Facebook groups and other online communities dedicated to autism and communication strategies can provide a space for sharing experiences and seeking advice.

Consulting with Therapists and Educators

Working with professionals who specialize in autism and communication disorders can be instrumental in implementing PECS effectively. Therapists and educators can provide individualized guidance, strategies, and ongoing support tailored to the unique needs of your child.

Professional Description
Speech-Language Pathologists These professionals specialize in communication disorders and can provide assessments, therapy, and guidance specific to your child's needs.
Behavioral Therapists Behavioral therapists can assist in implementing PECS within a broader behavioral intervention plan, addressing challenging behaviors and reinforcing positive communication skills.
Special Education Teachers Special education teachers have expertise in supporting children with disabilities and can provide guidance on incorporating PECS into educational settings.

By utilizing the available online resources, joining support groups and communities, and consulting with professionals, parents can access valuable knowledge, guidance, and support on their journey with PECS. Remember, each child is unique, and finding the right resources and support network can make a significant difference in the successful implementation of PECS as a communication tool for individuals with autism.


What age group is PECS suitable for?

PECS can be used with individuals of all ages, from young children to adults. It is especially beneficial for individuals who are non-verbal or have limited verbal abilities.

Is PECS only for individuals with autism?

No, PECS can be used with a variety of diagnoses and disabilities, including but not limited to autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and traumatic brain injury.

Do you need special training to use PECS?

It is recommended that caregivers and educators receive training in the implementation of PECS. This will ensure that the system is being used effectively and that the individual using it is making progress.

Can PECS be used in conjunction with other communication strategies?

Yes, PECS can be used alongside other communication strategies. It is important to individualize communication approaches based on the needs and abilities of each person.

How long does it take to see results with PECS?

The length of time it takes to see results with PECS varies depending on the individual's abilities and the consistency of implementation. However, many individuals begin to show progress within a few weeks or months of starting the program.


PECS is a powerful communication tool for non-verbal individuals. It provides a way for them to express their needs and wants, build relationships, and participate in everyday activities. If you know someone who is non-verbal, consider introducing them to PECS. It may just change their life.


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