Picture Exchange Communication System

Picture Exchange Communication System

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a form of augmentative and alternative communication. It is typically used as an aid in communication for children with autism and other special needs. The system has been used with a variety of ages including preschoolers, adolescents and adults who have a wide array of communicative, cognitive and physical difficulties. Recent literature reviews have supported PECS as an evidence-based practice. [1]



PECS was developed in 1985, by Andy Bondy, PhD and Lori Frost, CCC/SLP, as an augmentative/ alternative communication system that teaches children and adults with autism and other communication deficits to initiate communication. First used at the Delaware Autism Program, PECS has received worldwide recognition for focusing on the initiation component of communication. It was created with educators, resident care providers and families in mind.


PECS is designed to teach functional communication with an initial focus on spontaneity. It has been and continues to be implemented in a variety of settings (home, school, community) so users have the skills to communicate their wants and needs. PECS does not require complex or expensive materials since it uses picture symbols as the modality. Research has shown that many preschoolers using PECS also begin developing speech.[2]


The training protocol is based on B.F. Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior. Functional verbal operants are systematically taught using prompting and reinforcement strategies that will lead to independent communication. Verbal prompts are not used during the early phases, thus building immediate initiation and avoiding prompt dependency. PECS begins with teaching a student to exchange a picture of a desired item with a teacher/communicative partner, who immediately honors the request. After the student learns to spontaneously request for a desired item, the system goes on to teach discrimination among symbols and then how to construct a simple sentence. In the most advanced phases, individuals are taught to respond to questions and to comment. Additionally, advanced language concepts such as size, shape, color, number, etc. are also taught so the student can make their message more specific. For example, I want big yellow ball.

PECS is intended to be combined with elements of behavior analysis.

PECS phase 1-6

Phase I: How to communicate: Students learn to exchange single pictures with a communication partner. The student learns to place the picture icon in the communication partners hand in exchange for the desired item.
Phase II: Distance and persistence:Still using single pictures, students learn to locate their communication book, open it and retrieve a picture icon and travel to an increasing distance to the communication partner. The student places the picture icon in the communication partner's hand in exchange for the desired item. This new skill is further developed by using the picture exchange in different places, with different people, including peers, and across distances. They are also taught to be more persistent communicators.
Phase IIIA: Picture discrimination: Students learn to select from two or more pictures to ask for their favorite things. These are placed in a communication book—a ring binder with Velcro strips where pictures are stored and easily removed for communication. Discrimination begins between preferred and a non-preferred items before working on comparisons between equally rewarding items.
Phase IIIB: In this phase correspondence checks are performed for items that are equally appealing.
Phase IV: Sentence structure: Students learn to construct simple sentences on a detachable sentence strip using an “I want” picture followed by a picture of the item being requested.

Attributes and Language Expansion: Students learn to expand their sentences by adding adjectives, verbs and prepositions.
Phase V: Answering questions: Students learn to use PECS to answer the question, “What do you want?”.
Phase VI: Commenting: Now students are taught to comment in response to questions such as, “What do you see?”, “What do you hear?” and “What is it?”. They learn to make up sentences starting with “I see”, “I hear”, “I feel”, “It is a”, etc.


There is evidence that PECS is easily learned by most students, with its primary benefit being a means for communication by children and adults who have little or no speech due to autism or other developmental disabilities. "PECS is recommended as an evidence-based intervention for enhancing functional communication skills of individuals with ASD (autism spectrum disorder)." [3] An initial concern was that PECS might delay or inhibit speech development however a recent review of several peer-reviewed studies found that "there is no evidence within the reviewed studies to suggest that PECS inhibited speech; to the contrary, if any effect was observed, it was facilitative rather than inhibitory."[4] The current consensus view of PECS is that it is well supported by academic research and is now used by many educators and families of special needs individuals.[5]


  1. ^ PECS Related Publications
  2. ^ Bondy AS, Frost LA (1994). The Picture Exchange Communication System. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, Vol. 9, No. 3, 1-19 (1994)
  3. ^ Tien, K-C. (2008). Effectiveness of the Picture Exchange Communication System as a functional communication intervention for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A practice-based research synthesis. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, 43, 61-76.
  4. ^ Tincani, M. & Devis, K. (2010). Quantitative synthesis and component analysis of single-participant studies on the Picture Exchange Communication System. Remediation and Special Education (Online First), 1-13.
  5. ^ Sulzer-Azaroff, B., Hoffman, A., Horton, C., Bondy, A., & Frost, L. (2009). The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS): What Do the Data Say? Focus on Autism, 24, 89-103.
  • Bondy, A.S., and L. Frost. 1994. "The Picture Exchange Communication System." Focus on Autistic Behavior 9(3):1-19.
  • Bondy, A.S. 2001. "PECS: Potential benefits and risks." The Behavior Analyst Today 2:127-132.
  • Mirenda, P. 2001. "Autism, Augmentative Communication, and Assistive Technology: What Do We Really Know?" Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities 16(3):141-151.
  • Bondy, A.S., and L. Frost. 2001. "The Picture Exchange Communication System." Behav Modif. 25(5):725-744.

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