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Friday 19 Jan 2018

Picture Exchange Communication System

Submitted by Stephanie Williams, MS CCC-SLP

What is it?

Developed by Andrew S. Bondy, Ph.D. & Lori Frost, M.S., CCC/SLP, the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is an augmentative communication strategy often used with children with autism and related disabilities.  PECS is a behavioral approach that starts by teaching self-initiated requesting.  This is done by requiring the child to exchange a picture/word/symbol for a desired item.  Once basic requesting has been mastered, the program can be extended to teach higher-level language functions (e.g., answering yes/no questions, sentence structures, labeling items, etc.).

How does it work?

PECS is a systematic approach with very specific strategies for teaching communication skills.  There are 6 phases to the PECS.

Phase I: Children learn to exchange one picture symbol for a highly desired item or activity.

Note: In order for PECS to be successfully initiated with a child, time must be spent identifying motivating items or activities.

Examples of picture symbols might include:

Phase II: Children learn to generalize skills by using the single pictures with different people in different places.  They may also be required to move across the room to present the picture to an adult in the room.

Phase III: Children learn to select from two or more pictures to ask for their favorite things.  This is when the binder is introduced.  The binder will organize picture symbols into categories.  Symbols are attached by Velcro®.

Phase IV: Children learn to create simple sentences using an “I want” picture followed by a picture of the desired item or activity. Picture symbols representing adjectives, verbs and prepositions are added to provide richer vocabulary for sentence creation.

Phase V: Children use the picture symbols to answer the specific question “What do you want?”.

Phase VI: Children learn to comment in response to questions using picture symbols that represent starter phrases such as “I see…”, “I hear…”, “It is a…”

PECS is a valuable technique and has encouraged advancement in communication for many children with autism.  However, make sure that you explore all types of AAC tools and techniques in order to create the most appropriate and complete communication system for your child.  Many children who use PECS might also use additional strategies, such as a voice-output communication device.  Keep in mind that PECS need not be used exclusive of AAC devices and may be a part of the child’s communication system as long as they need it and choose to use it.

Where can I get more information?

For more information about the Picture Exchange Communication System, please visit

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