Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

PECS system has been used successfully by many people, including those with autism, Down syndrome, and other developmental disabilities. In this article, we'll explore what PECS is, how it works, and its benefits.

Alan Hollander
November 10, 2023

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

PECS system has been used successfully by many people, including those with autism, Down syndrome, and other developmental disabilities. In this article, we'll explore what PECS is, how it works, and its benefits.

Understanding Communication Challenges

For individuals with autism, communication can present unique challenges. These difficulties can vary widely from person to person, but they often involve impairments in verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Understanding these challenges and providing appropriate support is crucial for individuals with autism to effectively express themselves and engage with others.

Communication Difficulties Faced by People with Autism

People with autism may experience a range of communication difficulties that can impact their ability to express their thoughts, needs, and emotions. Some common challenges include:

  1. Verbal Communication Challenges: Many individuals with autism have difficulty with spoken language. They may struggle with articulation, fluency, and understanding the nuances of conversation. Some individuals may have limited speech or be nonverbal.
  2. Nonverbal Communication Challenges: People with autism may find it challenging to understand and use nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, body language, and gestures. This can make it difficult for them to interpret the emotions and intentions of others.
  3. Social Communication Challenges: Individuals with autism often have difficulty with social communication skills. They may struggle with initiating and maintaining conversations, understanding social rules, and interpreting social cues. This can lead to difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships.
  4. Literal Understanding: Some individuals with autism have a tendency to interpret language literally. They may struggle with understanding idioms, sarcasm, or abstract concepts, which can impact their ability to engage in everyday conversations.

The Importance of Communication Support

Communication support is vital for individuals with autism to overcome these challenges and effectively communicate with others. Providing the right tools and strategies can empower individuals with autism to express themselves, enhance their social interactions, and promote overall well-being.

One effective communication support system is the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). PECS is a widely recognized and evidence-based approach that uses visual aids to support communication. This system enables individuals with autism to communicate their needs, desires, and thoughts by exchanging pictures or symbols with a communication partner.

By understanding the communication challenges faced by individuals with autism and providing appropriate support, we can help them navigate the world of communication and foster meaningful connections. The implementation of effective communication strategies, such as the PECS Communication System, can play a significant role in empowering individuals with autism and enhancing their quality of life.

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Introducing the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

For individuals with autism who face challenges in communication, the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) offers a valuable solution. This section will provide an introduction to the PECS Communication System, explaining what it is and how it works.

What is the PECS Communication System?

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a communication approach designed to support individuals with limited verbal language skills, particularly those on the autism spectrum. It employs the use of visual aids called PECS icons or pictures to facilitate communication. These pictures represent objects, actions, and concepts, allowing individuals to express their needs, wants, and thoughts effectively.

PECS aims to empower individuals by providing them with a means to communicate independently. By using a systematic approach, individuals learn to initiate communication by exchanging pictures with a communication partner, such as a caregiver or therapist. The PECS system can be tailored to meet the unique communication needs of each individual, making it highly adaptable and flexible.

How Does the PECS Communication System Work?

The PECS Communication System operates through a series of phases that gradually build communication skills. The key phases of the PECS system include:

  1. Phase 1: The Physical Exchange - In this initial phase, the individual learns to exchange a single picture card with a communication partner to request a desired item or activity. The focus is on developing the basic understanding of the exchange process.
  2. Phase 2: Distance and Persistence - Here, the individual learns to approach their communication partner while presenting a picture card to request an item from a distance. They also begin to develop persistence by engaging in repeated exchanges to fulfill their needs.
  3. Phase 3: Picture Discrimination - This phase focuses on expanding the individual's ability to discriminate between different picture options. They learn to select the appropriate picture card from an array of options to make specific requests.
  4. Phase 4: Sentence Structure - In this phase, the individual learns to construct simple sentences using a combination of picture cards. They begin to form more complex requests and express their thoughts and feelings.
  5. Phase 5: Answering Questions and Commenting - The final phase involves responding to questions and initiating spontaneous communication. Individuals develop the ability to answer questions using picture cards and make comments about their environment or experiences.

Throughout the PECS journey, individuals are encouraged to develop their communication skills and gradually transition to more advanced forms of communication, such as speech or alternative augmentative communication (AAC) devices.

By introducing the PECS Communication System, individuals with autism can enhance their communication abilities, foster independence, and establish meaningful connections with others. The next section will delve into the remarkable benefits of the PECS system in promoting communication independence, social interaction, and language development.

Benefits of the PECS Communication System

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) offers numerous benefits for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other communication challenges. This section will explore some of the key advantages of implementing the PECS Communication System, including promoting communication independence, enhancing social interaction and engagement, and supporting language development.

Promoting Communication Independence

One of the primary benefits of the PECS Communication System is its ability to promote communication independence. By using visual symbols or pictures to express their needs, individuals with limited verbal skills can effectively communicate their desires, preferences, and thoughts.

This empowers them to initiate interactions and make choices independently, reducing frustration and enhancing their overall quality of life. The use of PECS allows individuals to communicate their needs even in environments where verbal communication may be challenging.

Enhancing Social Interaction and Engagement

Another significant benefit of the PECS Communication System is its positive impact on social interaction and engagement. By using visual supports, individuals with autism can effectively initiate and maintain social interactions with others.

The use of PECS encourages turn-taking, joint attention, and reciprocity in communication, which are important skills for developing meaningful relationships. The visual nature of PECS also aids in reducing anxiety and promoting engagement, as it provides individuals with a clear and structured way to communicate their thoughts and feelings.

Supporting Language Development

The PECS Communication System plays a vital role in supporting language development for individuals with communication challenges. By using visual supports, PECS helps to establish a strong foundation for language acquisition.

As individuals engage with the system, they learn to associate symbols or pictures with specific words or concepts. Over time, this association facilitates the development of vocabulary, comprehension, and expressive language skills. Through the use of PECS, individuals can gradually transition from using visual supports to verbal communication, expanding their language abilities.

The PECS Communication System offers numerous benefits that contribute to improving communication skills and overall quality of life for individuals with autism and other communication challenges. By promoting communication independence, enhancing social interaction and engagement, and supporting language development, PECS provides a valuable tool for individuals to express themselves effectively and participate more fully in their communities.

Implementing the PECS Communication System

Once the decision has been made to implement the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), it is important to understand the steps involved in effectively utilizing this communication method. This section will explore three key aspects of implementing the PECS Communication System: assessing readiness for PECS, establishing a PECS routine, and expanding communication skills with PECS.

Assessing Readiness for PECS

Before implementing the PECS Communication System, it is essential to assess the individual's readiness to engage with this method of communication.

This assessment helps determine if the person has the necessary cognitive, physical, and social skills to benefit from PECS. The assessment may involve evaluating the person's ability to visually attend to pictures, motor skills for exchanging pictures, and basic understanding of cause and effect. It is important to work with professionals who specialize in PECS, as they can provide guidance and support throughout the assessment process.

Establishing a PECS Routine

Establishing a consistent routine is crucial when implementing the PECS Communication System. This routine helps individuals with autism develop a clear understanding of how and when to use PECS.

It is important to establish dedicated communication times during the day and ensure that all communication partners are aware of the routine. During these designated times, individuals have the opportunity to make requests, comment, or engage in social interactions using PECS. Creating a structured routine provides a supportive environment for individuals to practice and reinforce their communication skills.

Expanding Communication Skills with PECS

Once the individual is comfortable with the basic use of the PECS Communication System, it is important to focus on expanding their communication skills. This involves systematically introducing new vocabulary, phrases, and concepts using PECS.

The process may start with teaching core vocabulary, such as common nouns and verbs, and gradually progress to more complex language skills. It is essential to provide ample opportunities for individuals to practice using PECS in various contexts and with different communication partners. This helps generalize their communication skills and promotes independence in expressing their needs and wants.

By following these steps and seeking guidance from professionals experienced in PECS, individuals with autism can effectively implement the PECS Communication System. Remember to collaborate with caregivers and professionals to ensure consistency and continued growth in communication skills. Creating a PECS-friendly environment and utilizing appropriate strategies will support individuals with autism in achieving their communication goals.

Supporting the Use of PECS

Implementing the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) can significantly enhance communication for individuals with autism. To ensure the success and continued growth of the system, it is essential to have collaboration with professionals and caregivers, create a PECS-friendly environment, and encourage continued growth and progress.

Collaboration with Professionals and Caregivers

Collaboration with professionals and caregivers is key to the successful implementation of the PECS Communication System. Professionals, such as speech-language pathologists and behavior analysts, can provide guidance, training, and support in using the system effectively.

They can assist in developing individualized communication goals and strategies that align with the person's unique needs. Caregivers, including family members and teachers, play a crucial role in reinforcing and supporting the use of PECS in daily routines and activities. Regular communication and collaboration with professionals and caregivers ensure consistency and the best possible outcomes for the individual utilizing the system.

Creating a PECS-Friendly Environment

Creating a PECS-friendly environment is essential to facilitate communication and encourage the use of the system. Here are some strategies to create an environment that supports the use of PECS:

  • Accessible Communication Materials: Ensure that PECS communication cards and materials are easily accessible to the individual. This may involve having a designated communication book or binder, using visual schedules, and labeling objects and areas with corresponding PECS cards.
  • Visual Supports: Incorporate visual supports throughout the environment to complement the use of PECS. This can include visual schedules, visual cues, and visual reminders to assist in understanding expectations and promoting independence.
  • Consistent Routine: Establishing a consistent routine helps individuals with autism feel secure and promotes the use of PECS. Clearly communicate the daily schedule using visual supports and consistently provide opportunities for communication using the PECS system.

Encouraging Continued Growth and Progress

To support the continued growth and progress of individuals using the PECS Communication System, it's important to provide ongoing encouragement and opportunities for development. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Expanding Vocabulary: Continuously expand the individual's vocabulary by introducing new PECS cards and teaching new functional and meaningful communication skills. Gradually increase the complexity of communication requests and encourage the use of descriptive language.
  • Generalizing Skills: Help the individual generalize their communication skills beyond structured settings to real-life situations. Encourage the use of PECS in various environments and with different communication partners to ensure that the skills are transferable.
  • Monitoring Progress: Regularly assess and monitor progress to identify areas of strength and areas that require further support. This allows for adjustments in the communication goals and strategies, ensuring that the individual's needs are met effectively.

By collaborating with professionals and caregivers, creating a supportive environment, and promoting continued growth and progress, individuals using the PECS Communication System can further develop their communication skills and enhance their overall communication independence.


PECS is a communication system that uses pictures to help individuals express themselves. It is a simple and effective system that can be used with individuals of all ages and abilities. By using PECS, individuals can communicate their needs and wants, improve social interactions, and increase their independence. If you or someone you know has difficulty communicating, consider exploring the benefits of PECS.