Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

If you are a parent or caregiver of a child with communication difficulties, you may have heard of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). This innovative approach to communication has been proven to be successful for children with autism spectrum disorder and other communication disorders.

To fully comprehend the significance of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) in the context of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it is crucial to first understand what ASD is and the communication challenges individuals with ASD may face.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder, often referred to as ASD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects individuals across a wide spectrum. It is characterized by challenges in social interaction, communication, and repetitive patterns of behavior. ASD can vary greatly from person to person, with each individual displaying unique strengths and difficulties.

Individuals with ASD may experience challenges in various aspects of communication. This can include difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication, such as understanding and using gestures, facial expressions, and body language. Some individuals may have delayed speech development, while others may have highly developed vocabulary but struggle with pragmatic language skills, such as initiating and maintaining conversations.

Communication Challenges in ASD

Communication challenges in individuals with ASD can manifest in different ways. Some common difficulties include:

  • Social Communication: Individuals with ASD may have difficulty understanding and using social cues, leading to challenges in initiating and maintaining conversations. They may struggle to comprehend abstract language and humor, and may exhibit a literal interpretation of language.
  • Non-Verbal Communication: Difficulties in non-verbal communication can include limited use of gestures, facial expressions, and body language. Individuals with ASD may find it challenging to read and interpret the non-verbal cues of others.
  • Repetitive Language: Some individuals with ASD may engage in repetitive or echolalic language, where they repeat words or phrases without understanding their meaning. This can affect their ability to engage in meaningful and spontaneous communication.
  • Sensory Sensitivities: Many individuals with ASD experience sensory sensitivities, which can impact their ability to process and respond to auditory, visual, and tactile stimuli. This can further hinder their communication skills and interactions with others.

Understanding the communication challenges faced by individuals with ASD is essential in identifying appropriate interventions and strategies to support their communication development. One such intervention is the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), which aims to enhance communication skills and promote independence for individuals with ASD. To learn more about PECS and how it works, continue reading the next section.

Introducing Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

Communication plays a vital role in the development and well-being of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For those who face challenges in verbal communication, the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) provides an effective alternative method to express their needs, wants, and thoughts.

What is PECS?

PECS is a systematic approach designed to support individuals with ASD in developing functional communication skills. It is based on the principle of exchanging pictures to initiate and maintain communication. PECS aims to empower individuals by providing them with a means to communicate their desires and interact with others effectively.

The PECS program typically involves the use of a communication book or board filled with pictures or symbols that represent various objects, activities, and requests. These symbols are specifically chosen to be meaningful and relevant to the individual's daily life. By selecting a picture from the book and handing it to a communication partner, the individual can convey their specific needs or initiate a conversation. This visual exchange helps bridge the communication gap and promotes engagement with others.

How Does PECS Work?

PECS follows a well-defined set of stages or phases to gradually build communication skills. These stages include:

  • Phase 1: "Requesting" - In this initial phase, the individual is taught to make a simple request by exchanging a single picture or symbol. The focus is on establishing the basic understanding of the PECS process and the concept of communication exchange.
  • Phase 2: "Expanding Spontaneity" - Once the individual has grasped the concept of exchanging pictures, Phase 2 focuses on expanding their communication skills. They learn to generalize the use of PECS across different communication partners, settings, and requests.
  • Phase 3: "Responding to Questions" - This phase introduces the concept of responding to questions or comments from others using PECS. The individual learns to use the system to answer questions or comment on activities, events, or objects.
  • Phase 4: "Initiating Communication" - Building upon the previous phases, Phase 4 emphasizes the development of spontaneous communication initiation. The individual learns to initiate communication by selecting appropriate pictures and delivering them to others without a direct prompt.
  • Phase 5: "Responding to Multiple Cues" - In this final phase, the individual learns to respond to more complex cues, such as sentence strips or combinations of pictures, to express their needs and wants more effectively.

It's important to note that while PECS is a structured program, the pace of progress may vary for each individual. The implementation of PECS is most effective when it is tailored to the specific needs and abilities of the individual with ASD. Collaborating with professionals who specialize in PECS, such as speech-language pathologists or behavior analysts, can provide valuable guidance and support throughout the implementation process.

By introducing the concept of PECS and understanding how it works, parents and caregivers can take the first step in exploring this communication system to enhance the communication skills of their child with ASD.

Benefits of PECS for Individuals with ASD

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) has proven to be highly beneficial for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in improving their communication skills and promoting independence and participation.

Enhancing Communication Skills

PECS provides a visual-based communication method that helps individuals with ASD overcome communication challenges. By using pictures or symbols, individuals can initiate and engage in meaningful interactions with others. This system allows individuals to express their needs, wants, and thoughts, leading to improved social interactions and overall communication skills.

PECS focuses on building communication skills in a systematic way, starting with simple requests and gradually progressing to more complex language structures. Through this approach, individuals with ASD can develop a foundation of functional communication, empowering them to effectively express themselves and understand others.

Promoting Independence and Participation

One of the significant benefits of PECS is its ability to promote independence and active participation. By using visual supports, individuals with ASD can make choices and communicate their preferences in various settings, including home, school, and community environments.

PECS encourages individuals with ASD to become more self-reliant by giving them the tools to effectively communicate their needs and desires. This can lead to increased autonomy and a greater sense of control over their daily lives. As individuals gain confidence in their communication abilities, they may also become more willing to engage in social interactions and participate in activities.

Implementing PECS at home is crucial for reinforcing the use of this communication system. Establishing a consistent PECS routine and creating personalized PECS materials can help individuals with ASD generalize their communication skills beyond therapy sessions and apply them in real-life situations.

By embracing the benefits of PECS, individuals with ASD can experience improved communication, enhanced independence, and increased participation in various aspects of their lives. It is essential for parents to seek professional guidance, collaborate with experts, and reinforce the use of PECS to maximize the positive impact on their child's communication development.

Implementing PECS at Home

For parents of children with communication disabilities, implementing the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) at home can significantly enhance their child's communication skills and overall development. By establishing a PECS routine and creating PECS materials, parents can create a supportive environment that encourages effective communication.

Establishing a PECS Routine

Establishing a consistent PECS routine is essential for creating a structured and predictable environment that promotes communication. Here are some steps to help you establish a PECS routine at home:

  • Introduction: Introduce your child to PECS by explaining what it is and how it can help them communicate their needs and wants effectively. Emphasize the benefits and encourage their participation.
  • Visual Schedule: Create a visual schedule using PECS symbols or pictures to outline the daily activities and routines. This visual representation helps your child understand the sequence of events and provides a sense of predictability.
  • Communication Opportunities: Incorporate structured communication opportunities throughout the day. For example, during mealtime, encourage your child to use PECS symbols to request their preferred food or drink.
  • Consistent Support: Provide consistent support and modeling by using PECS yourself. Demonstrate the use of PECS symbols when interacting with your child, reinforcing the importance of communication.
  • Repetition and Practice: Encourage frequent practice of using PECS symbols by providing ample opportunities throughout the day. Repetition and practice will help your child become more comfortable and proficient in utilizing PECS.

Remember, consistency is key when implementing a PECS routine at home. Regular practice and reinforcement will help your child develop their communication skills over time. For more information on using PECS, consider seeking guidance from professionals who specialize in PECS training.

Creating PECS Materials

Creating personalized PECS materials is an important aspect of implementing PECS at home. These materials consist of visual symbols or pictures that represent objects, actions, or concepts that your child wants to communicate. Here are some steps to help you create PECS materials:

  • Assessment: Conduct an assessment to identify the specific communication needs and preferences of your child. This will guide you in selecting the appropriate PECS symbols or pictures.
  • Symbol Selection: Choose PECS symbols or pictures that are easily recognizable and meaningful to your child. Start with a small set of symbols that represent their most frequently used words or desired items.
  • Symbol Creation: Create or obtain the selected PECS symbols or pictures. You can draw them by hand, print them from online sources, or purchase ready-made PECS symbol sets. Ensure that the symbols are clear, visually appealing, and easily distinguishable.
  • Organization: Organize the PECS symbols in a systematic manner that is easy for your child to access. Consider using a communication book or a Velcro board where your child can easily remove and attach the symbols.
  • Expansion: As your child's communication skills progress, continuously expand the collection of PECS symbols to include new words, actions, or concepts. This will allow your child to broaden their communication abilities.

By creating personalized PECS materials, you provide your child with a means to express their needs, wants, and thoughts effectively. Remember to regularly update and adapt the PECS materials based on your child's evolving communication abilities.

Implementing PECS at home requires patience, consistency, and ongoing support. By establishing a PECS routine and creating personalized PECS materials, you can empower your child to communicate more effectively, promote their independence, and enhance their overall quality of life.

Supporting the Use of PECS

To ensure the successful implementation of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it is important to collaborate with professionals and provide ongoing support. By working together, parents and professionals can create a supportive environment that encourages effective communication and maximizes the benefits of PECS.

Collaborating with Professionals

Collaborating with professionals who specialize in ASD and communication disorders is highly beneficial when implementing PECS. These professionals, such as speech-language pathologists and behavior analysts, can provide valuable guidance and expertise throughout the process. They can assess the individual's communication needs, develop appropriate goals, and design a personalized PECS program.

When collaborating with professionals, it is important to actively participate in the process. Engage in discussions, ask questions, and provide insights about your child's strengths, challenges, and preferences. By actively participating, you can contribute to the development of an effective and individualized PECS program.

Professionals may also provide training on PECS implementation, including strategies for teaching and expanding communication skills. They may share resources, such as PECS communication books, and offer guidance on how to adapt the use of PECS in different environments. Take advantage of their expertise and seek their support whenever needed.

Reinforcing and Encouraging Communication

Consistency and reinforcement play a crucial role in supporting the use of PECS. As a parent, you can reinforce communication efforts by consistently responding to your child's attempts to use PECS. Encourage and acknowledge their communication attempts, even if they are still in the early stages of learning. Providing positive reinforcement, such as praise, rewards, or preferred items, can motivate your child to continue using PECS.

Incorporate PECS into daily activities and routines to encourage regular practice and generalization of communication skills. Create opportunities for your child to use PECS in various situations, such as during mealtime, playtime, or when making choices. By integrating PECS into different aspects of their daily life, your child can develop functional communication skills that extend beyond specific therapy sessions.

Remember that learning to use PECS takes time and patience. Offer support and encouragement, and avoid putting excessive pressure on your child. Celebrate every small step and progress they make along the way.

By collaborating with professionals and reinforcing communication efforts, you can provide the necessary support to help your child succeed with PECS. With consistent support and a positive mindset, you can empower your child to effectively communicate and enhance their overall quality of life.

Additional Resources for Parents

Parents of children with communication disabilities can find support and guidance through various resources. Here are two valuable types of resources that can provide helpful information and connect parents with a community of support.

Books and Websites

Books and websites offer a wealth of information and insights into the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and its application for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). By exploring these resources, parents can gain a deeper understanding of PECS and learn practical strategies for implementing it effectively.

Some recommended books on PECS and communication for individuals with ASD include:

Book Title Author
"The Picture Exchange Communication System Training Manual" Lori Frost and Andy Bondy
"PECS: The Ultimate Guide to Picture Exchange Communication System" Sarah Newman
"An Early Start for Your Child with Autism" Sally J. Rogers, Geraldine Dawson, and Laurie A. Vismara

Additionally, several websites provide valuable information, resources, and training opportunities on PECS and communication strategies for individuals with ASD. These resources provide detailed information on the different phases of PECS, the use of PECS symbols, and how to implement PECS at home.

Support Groups and Workshops

Connecting with other parents who are navigating similar challenges can be immensely beneficial. Support groups and workshops provide opportunities to share experiences, exchange knowledge, and offer mutual support. These forums create a sense of community and allow parents to learn from one another's successes and challenges.

Local autism organizations, educational institutions, and community centers often organize support groups and workshops specifically tailored to the needs of parents with children on the autism spectrum. These gatherings provide a safe space for parents to discuss their concerns, ask questions, and seek guidance from professionals and experienced parents.

By utilizing books, websites, support groups, and workshops, parents can gain valuable knowledge and support to enhance their understanding of PECS and successfully navigate the unique communication challenges faced by their children with ASD.


Is PECS only for children with autism spectrum disorder?

No, while PECS was initially developed for children with autism spectrum disorder, it can also be used for individuals with other communication disorders or delays.

Can PECS be used as the sole communication system for a child?

While PECS can be a powerful tool to improve communication skills, it is not always appropriate as the sole communication system. A trained professional will determine if additional augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) strategies are needed to support a child's communication needs.

How long does it take for a child to learn and use PECS effectively?

The amount of time it takes for a child to learn and use PECS effectively varies depending on the individual. It may take several weeks or months of consistent practice and training before a child can independently use the system. However, with patience and persistence, many children have been successful in using PECS to communicate their needs and desires.

Can I create my own pictures for use in PECS?

Yes, caregivers can create their own pictures using photographs or drawings that represent the child's desired items or actions. It is important to ensure that the pictures are clear and easily recognizable by the child.

Is there any research supporting the effectiveness of PECS?

Yes, there have been several studies demonstrating the effectiveness of PECS in improving communication skills in children with autism spectrum disorder and other communication disorders.


PECS is a powerful communication tool that can help children with communication difficulties express their needs and desires. By using pictures to communicate, children can improve their communication skills, social skills, and overall quality of life. If you are interested in implementing PECS with your child, be sure to seek the guidance of a trained professional to ensure the best possible outcomes.