Understanding Pecs Autism: A Beginner's Guide

PECS stands for Picture Exchange Communication System. It is a communication tool that is often used with individuals who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to help them communicate their wants and needs. PECS is a visual-based system that uses pictures to represent words and phrases.

Alan Hollander
March 23, 2024

Understanding Pecs Autism: A Beginner's Guide

PECS stands for Picture Exchange Communication System. It is a communication tool that is often used with individuals who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to help them communicate their wants and needs. PECS is a visual-based system that uses pictures to represent words and phrases.

Understanding PECS and Autism

For parents of individuals with autism, it is crucial to explore effective communication strategies that can help their loved ones express themselves and connect with others. One such approach is PECS, which stands for Picture Exchange Communication System. Let's take a closer look at what PECS is and how it supports communication for individuals with autism.

What is PECS?

PECS is a method of communication that uses pictures to enable individuals with autism to express their needs, wants, and thoughts. It is a structured system that helps individuals develop functional communication skills by gradually progressing through different phases.

At its core, PECS focuses on the exchange of pictures between the individual and their communication partner. The individual learns to initiate communication by handing over a picture to their partner, who then honors their request or responds to their message.

How PECS Supports Communication for Individuals with Autism

PECS offers several benefits for individuals with autism, particularly in supporting their communication and social interaction skills. Here are some ways in which PECS can be beneficial:

  1. Facilitating Communication: PECS provides individuals with a tangible way to communicate their needs and desires. By using pictures, they can express themselves even if they struggle with verbal communication. This helps reduce frustration and promotes a sense of empowerment.
  2. Promoting Independence and Self-Advocacy: As individuals progress through the different phases of PECS, they gain the ability to make choices, initiate conversations, and advocate for themselves. This fosters independence and self-confidence, allowing them to participate more actively in various social settings.
  3. Reducing Frustration and Challenging Behaviors: Difficulties in communication can often lead to frustration and challenging behaviors in individuals with autism. By providing a structured method of communication, PECS helps alleviate this frustration and can contribute to a reduction in challenging behaviors.

By understanding the fundamentals of PECS and its impact on communication for individuals with autism, parents can explore this approach as a means to support their loved ones' communication needs. It is important to remember that the implementation of PECS should be done in collaboration with professionals experienced in working with individuals with autism.

The PECS Process

PECS, or Picture Exchange Communication System, is a structured method that supports communication for individuals with autism. It is designed to gradually develop communication skills using visual supports. The PECS process consists of five distinct phases, each building upon the previous one to promote language development and communication.

Phase 1: The Physical Exchange

In this initial phase, the focus is on teaching individuals with autism the basic concept of communication through an exchange of pictures. The individual is taught to initiate communication by handing a picture of a desired item to a communication partner, who then honors the request. This phase helps establish the foundation for effective communication and lays the groundwork for future language development.

Phase 2: Distance and Persistence

During Phase 2, individuals are encouraged to approach their communication partner and hand them a picture symbol from a distance. This phase expands on the skills learned in Phase 1 by increasing the physical separation between the individual and their communication partner. It also encourages persistence in initiating communication and further develops the individual's understanding of the exchange process.

Phase 3: Picture Discrimination

In Phase 3, individuals learn to discriminate between different picture symbols and make choices based on their preferences. They are presented with an array of pictures and are taught to select the one that represents their desired item or activity. This phase helps individuals expand their communication skills by making choices and expressing their preferences more effectively.

Phase 4: Sentence Structure

Phase 4 focuses on teaching individuals to construct simple sentences using picture symbols. They learn to combine different symbols to form meaningful requests or statements. This phase helps individuals develop sentence structure and expand their ability to communicate more complex thoughts and needs.

Phase 5: Responsive and Spontaneous Communication

The final phase of the PECS process aims to promote responsive and spontaneous communication. Individuals are encouraged to use the PECS system to respond to questions, comment on their environment, and initiate social interactions. This phase supports the development of more natural and independent communication skills.

The PECS process is a systematic approach that allows individuals with autism to gradually develop their communication abilities. Each phase builds upon the previous one, providing a structured framework for language development. By following this process, individuals can gain confidence in their communication skills and enhance their overall quality of life.

Benefits of PECS for Individuals with Autism

PECS, or Picture Exchange Communication System, offers numerous benefits for individuals with autism. This section explores three key advantages: enhancing communication skills, promoting independence and self-advocacy, and reducing frustration and challenging behaviors.

Enhancing Communication Skills

For individuals with autism who struggle with verbal communication, PECS provides an effective alternative to express their wants, needs, and thoughts. By using visual symbols, such as pictures or icons, individuals can communicate their desires and share information with others.

PECS focuses on teaching individuals the necessary skills to initiate communication, make requests, and engage in social interactions. As individuals progress through the different phases of PECS, they learn to associate pictures with specific objects or actions, gradually building their vocabulary and communication abilities.

Promoting Independence and Self-Advocacy

One of the significant benefits of PECS is its emphasis on promoting independence and self-advocacy in individuals with autism. By enabling individuals to communicate their needs and preferences, PECS empowers them to make choices and assert their independence.

As individuals become proficient in using PECS, they gain the ability to express their thoughts, share information, and engage in social interactions more effectively. This increased independence can lead to enhanced self-confidence and a greater sense of control over their environment.

Reducing Frustration and Challenging Behaviors

Communication difficulties can often lead to frustration and challenging behaviors in individuals with autism. PECS helps reduce these issues by providing a means of communication that is accessible and understandable.

By giving individuals the tools to express themselves, PECS can alleviate frustration and decrease the likelihood of challenging behaviors that may arise from communication breakdowns. As individuals become more proficient in using PECS, they experience increased success in conveying their needs and desires, leading to a reduction in frustration and improved emotional well-being.

The benefits of PECS extend beyond the realm of communication. By enhancing communication skills, promoting independence and self-advocacy, and reducing frustration and challenging behaviors, PECS plays a vital role in improving the overall quality of life for individuals with autism.

Implementing PECS at Home

For parents of individuals with autism, implementing the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) at home can be a valuable tool in promoting effective communication. Here are three key steps to consider when implementing PECS at home: creating a PECS system, daily practice and reinforcement, and collaboration with professionals.

Creating a PECS System

Creating a PECS system involves setting up a structured and organized communication system that supports the use of visual aids. Here are some steps to follow when creating a PECS system:

  1. Choose appropriate PECS materials: Gather picture cards or symbols that represent items, activities, and requests that are relevant to your child's daily life. These can be obtained through various resources, including specialized websites, educational catalogs, or by creating your own.
  2. Establish a communication board: Designate a space where you can display the picture cards. This can be a simple board, a binder, or a folder with clear pockets. Arrange the cards in a way that makes sense to your child and is easily accessible.
  3. Teach the meaning of the pictures: Introduce the picture cards one at a time, pairing them with the corresponding objects, activities, or requests. Use repetition and consistent reinforcement to help your child understand the connection between the pictures and their intended meanings.
  4. Practice using the PECS system: Encourage your child to use the PECS system by prompting them to select a picture card and exchange it for the desired item or action. Provide positive reinforcement, such as praise or a small reward, to motivate their engagement with the system.

Daily Practice and Reinforcement

Consistent practice and reinforcement are essential for the successful implementation of PECS at home. Here are some strategies to incorporate into your daily routine:

  1. Designated communication times: Set aside specific times during the day for structured communication practice using the PECS system. This can include dedicated sessions for requesting preferred items or engaging in specific activities.
  2. Repetition and reinforcement: Encourage your child to use the PECS system consistently by reinforcing their efforts. Provide praise, rewards, or other forms of positive reinforcement when they successfully communicate using the picture cards.
  3. Gradual expansion of vocabulary: As your child becomes more comfortable with the PECS system, gradually introduce new picture cards to expand their communication repertoire. This can include introducing cards for new items, actions, or requests that are meaningful to your child.

Collaboration with Professionals

Collaboration with professionals experienced in working with individuals with autism can provide valuable guidance and support. Here are some ways to collaborate with professionals:

  1. Consultation and training: Seek guidance from speech-language pathologists or other professionals who specialize in autism and communication. They can provide training on implementing PECS at home and offer strategies tailored to your child's specific needs.
  2. Progress monitoring: Regularly update professionals on your child's progress with the PECS system. This can help them assess the effectiveness of the intervention and make any necessary adjustments to support your child's communication development.
  3. Support groups and workshops: Engage in support groups or attend workshops specifically designed for parents of individuals with autism. These forums provide opportunities to connect with other parents, share experiences, and gain insights into effective communication strategies.

By creating a PECS system, practicing daily with reinforcement, and collaborating with professionals, parents can effectively implement the PECS approach at home to support their child's communication development and enhance their overall quality of life.

Additional Communication Strategies

In addition to the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), there are other communication strategies that can be beneficial for individuals with autism. These strategies aim to enhance communication skills, promote understanding, and provide additional support. Two common approaches are Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and the use of Visual Supports and Social Stories.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) refers to various methods and tools that support or replace speech for individuals with limited or no verbal communication. AAC can be particularly helpful for individuals with autism who struggle with expressive language.

AAC encompasses a wide range of techniques, including the use of communication boards, sign language, speech-generating devices, and mobile applications. These tools provide individuals with alternative means to express their thoughts, needs, and wants.

It's important to consider the individual's communication abilities and preferences when implementing AAC strategies. Some individuals may benefit from low-tech options such as picture symbols or communication boards, while others may find high-tech devices more effective. Collaborating with speech-language pathologists and AAC specialists can help identify the most suitable AAC approach for each individual.

Visual Supports and Social Stories

Visual supports and social stories are visual tools that can assist individuals with autism in understanding and navigating social situations, daily routines, and expectations. These tools use pictures, symbols, or written text to provide visual cues and promote comprehension.

Visual supports can take various forms, such as schedules, visual timetables, choice boards, and visual cues for specific tasks or activities. These supports help individuals with autism anticipate and understand what will happen next, reducing anxiety and promoting independence.

Social stories, on the other hand, are personalized narratives that describe social situations and appropriate behaviors. They help individuals with autism understand social expectations, routines, and rules. Social stories are written in a clear and concise manner, using simple language and visual supports to enhance understanding.

By using visual supports and social stories, parents and caregivers can provide individuals with autism a visual framework for navigating their environment and understanding social interactions. These tools can be created at home or with the support of professionals, ensuring they are tailored to the individual's specific needs.

Implementing these additional communication strategies along with PECS can create a comprehensive communication system for individuals with autism. Remember that each individual is unique, and it may take time to find the most effective strategies for them. With patience, practice, and professional guidance, you can support your loved one in developing their communication skills and enhancing their overall quality of life.

Resources and Support for PECS

Parents of individuals with autism who are interested in implementing the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) can benefit from various resources and support options. These resources can provide guidance, training, and opportunities for collaboration with professionals and other parents. Here are some key avenues to explore:

Training Programs and Workshops

Training programs and workshops offer valuable education and hands-on experience in using PECS effectively. These programs are designed to equip parents with the necessary knowledge and skills to implement PECS in their daily routines. They often cover topics such as understanding the PECS process, creating a PECS system, and troubleshooting common challenges. Here are some popular training programs and workshops:

Program/Workshop Description
PECS Level 1 Training Provides a comprehensive introduction to PECS and teaches the fundamentals of the system.
Advanced PECS Workshops Focuses on advanced topics, such as expanding sentence structure and promoting spontaneous communication.
Parent Support Groups Offers a supportive environment for parents to share experiences, learn from one another, and receive guidance from professionals.

Online Communities and Forums

Online communities and forums provide a platform for parents to connect with each other, share information, and seek advice regarding PECS and autism. These communities can be a valuable source of support, as parents can interact with individuals who have firsthand experience with PECS. Here are some popular online communities and forums:

Online Community/Forum Description
Autism Support Groups Online support groups specifically focused on autism often have dedicated discussions and threads related to PECS.
Parent Forums Websites and forums dedicated to parents of children with autism often have dedicated sections for discussing communication strategies like PECS.
Social Media Groups Platforms like Facebook and Instagram have groups dedicated to autism and special needs parenting, where parents can find support and resources related to PECS.

Professional Guidance

Seeking professional guidance is another important aspect of implementing PECS successfully. Autism professionals, such as speech-language pathologists or behavioral therapists, can provide individualized support, assess progress, and offer tailored strategies for using PECS effectively. Here are some professionals who can provide guidance:

Professional Description
Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) SLPs specialize in communication disorders and can provide assessment, therapy, and guidance on using PECS for individuals with autism.
Behavioral Therapist Behavioral therapists can assist in behavior management and help integrate PECS into behavior intervention plans.
Autism Consultants These professionals specialize in supporting families and individuals with autism and can provide guidance on various aspects, including communication strategies like PECS.

By exploring these resources and support options, parents can enhance their understanding of PECS and receive the guidance needed to effectively implement it in their daily routines. Remember, every individual with autism is unique, so it's important to tailor the use of PECS to meet specific needs and seek professional advice when necessary.


Is PECS only for nonverbal individuals with ASD?

No, PECS can be used with individuals who have difficulty communicating verbally, not just those who are nonverbal. It is a flexible system that can be adapted to meet the needs of each individual user.

How long does it take to see progress with PECS?

The time it takes to see progress with PECS varies depending on the individual and their level of communication ability. Some individuals may make progress quickly, while others may take longer. It is important to track progress over time and to make adjustments to the program as needed.

Can PECS be used in conjunction with other communication systems?

Yes, PECS can be used in conjunction with other communication systems, such as sign language or AAC devices. It is important to work with a trained professional to determine the best approach for each individual user.

Is there an age limit for using PECS?

No, there is no age limit for using PECS. It can be used with individuals of all ages who have difficulty communicating verbally.

Can parents or caregivers implement the PECS program at home?

Yes, parents and caregivers can implement the PECS program at home under the guidance of a trained professional. However, it is important to work closely with a professional and to attend regular training sessions in order to ensure that the program is being implemented correctly and effectively.


PECS is a powerful communication tool that has helped countless individuals with ASD to communicate their wants and needs. By using pictures to represent words and phrases, the PECS system offers a structured and effective way for nonverbal individuals to communicate with others. If you are interested in using PECS with your child or loved one, be sure to work with a trained professional who can guide you through the process and help you to achieve the best possible outcomes.