What You Need to Know About Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

Unleash the power of PECS communication! Enhance language skills, promote independence, and foster connection through the art of expression.

Introduction to PECS Communication

What is the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)?

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a unique and effective method of communication that utilizes pictures to enable individuals with communication difficulties to express their needs, desires, and thoughts. Developed by Andy Bondy and Lori Frost in the late 1980s, PECS has since become widely recognized and utilized as an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) system.

PECS involves the use of a communication book or a set of picture cards that represent various objects, actions, and concepts. Through the exchange of these pictures, individuals can initiate communication and convey their messages effectively. This system is particularly beneficial for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other communication challenges.

To implement PECS successfully, individuals are taught a series of steps that involve selecting a picture, handing it to a communication partner, and eventually progressing towards constructing sentences using the pictures. The process is designed to gradually build communication skills and promote independence.

The Importance of Communication for Everyone

Communication is an essential aspect of human interaction and plays a fundamental role in our daily lives. It allows us to express our thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants, as well as establish connections with others. For individuals with communication difficulties, such as those with ASD or other developmental disabilities, finding effective ways to communicate is crucial for their overall well-being and quality of life.

PECS offers a valuable avenue for individuals with communication challenges to engage in meaningful and functional communication. By using pictures as a form of communication, PECS provides a visual and concrete way to express oneself, reducing frustration and enhancing the ability to interact with others.

Furthermore, communication is not limited to verbal language alone. Non-verbal communication, such as gestures and visual cues, can be equally powerful in conveying messages. PECS recognizes and capitalizes on the power of visual communication, allowing individuals to communicate effectively, even if they have limited or no verbal language skills.

By embracing PECS as a communication tool, individuals with communication difficulties can unlock new possibilities, gain independence, and establish connections with the world around them.

How PECS Works

To understand the effectiveness of Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), it is important to explore the basics and key components of this communication method.

The Basics of PECS

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a widely recognized and evidence-based communication approach that helps individuals with communication challenges express their needs, wants, and thoughts. PECS utilizes a system of exchanging pictures to facilitate communication.

The PECS process typically involves the following steps:

  1. Initiation: The individual initiates communication by reaching for a picture card, often referred to as a "PECS card." The card represents a desired item, action, or request.
  2. Exchange: The individual hands the PECS card to a communication partner, such as a caregiver, teacher, or peer. This exchange serves as a form of non-verbal communication.
  3. Response: The communication partner acknowledges the individual's communication attempt and honors the request or prompt. This reinforces the use of PECS and encourages further communication.
  4. Expansion: Over time, individuals using PECS are encouraged to expand their communication skills by progressing from single-word requests to more complex sentences and expressive language.

The flexibility of PECS allows it to be adapted to different individuals with varying communication abilities. It can be used as a primary communication method or as a stepping stone towards developing speech and language skills. PECS is commonly associated with individuals on the autism spectrum, but it can also be beneficial for people with other communication difficulties.

Key Components of PECS Communication

PECS encompasses several key components that contribute to its effectiveness:

  1. Visual Supports: PECS relies on visual supports such as picture cards or icons. These visual representations provide a concrete way for individuals to express their needs and desires.
  2. Systematic Training: PECS requires systematic training and consistent implementation. Communication partners play a crucial role in ensuring that the individual understands the process and feels supported throughout their communication journey. PECS training programs can help caregivers and professionals learn effective strategies for implementing PECS. 
  3. Individualized Communication Books: Communication partners create personalized communication books that contain a collection of relevant and meaningful PECS cards. These books serve as a visual reference for the individual, allowing them to select the appropriate card to convey their message. 
  4. Prompting and Reinforcement: In the early stages of PECS implementation, individuals may require prompts and cues to initiate and complete the communication exchange. Positive reinforcement, such as praise or access to desired items, is often used to motivate the individual and reinforce their communication efforts.

By understanding the basics and key components of PECS, individuals, caregivers, and professionals can effectively implement this communication system and support individuals in their journey towards improved communication skills. PECS offers a structured and visual approach that empowers individuals to express themselves, fostering independence and connection. For more information on PECS and its application for individuals with autism, explore their article on pecs for autism.

Benefits of PECS Communication

Implementing the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) can bring about several benefits for individuals utilizing this form of communication. Let's explore some of the key advantages of PECS communication.

Enhancing Communication Skills

One of the primary benefits of PECS communication is the significant improvement it brings to an individual's overall communication skills. By using visual symbols and exchanging them to convey wants, needs, and thoughts, individuals can develop their ability to express themselves effectively. The use of PECS promotes the development of receptive and expressive language skills, allowing individuals to understand and communicate in various social contexts. Through consistent practice and reinforcement, individuals can enhance their vocabulary and expand their language abilities.

Promoting Independence and Autonomy

PECS communication empowers individuals by promoting their independence and autonomy. With the ability to communicate using visual symbols, individuals gain a sense of control over their environment and can make choices and express preferences. The use of PECS allows individuals to initiate social interactions, make requests, and participate actively in their daily activities. This increased independence fosters a sense of self-confidence and self-advocacy, enabling individuals to have a more active role in their lives.

Fostering Social Interaction and Connection

PECS communication plays a vital role in fostering social interaction and connection. By providing individuals with a means to express themselves, PECS encourages engagement and communication with others. Through the exchange of visual symbols, individuals can initiate conversations, share information, and establish meaningful connections with peers, family, and friends. The use of PECS can bridge communication gaps, promoting social inclusion, and enhancing overall social well-being.

The benefits of PECS communication extend beyond enhancing communication skills. It promotes independence, autonomy, and social interaction, enabling individuals to actively participate in various aspects of their lives. 

Implementing PECS Communication

To effectively implement Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), it is important to understand the key steps involved in getting started, creating a PECS communication system, and implementing strategies for successful communication.

Getting Started with PECS

Getting started with PECS involves understanding the basic principles and steps of the communication system. It is essential to have a clear grasp of how PECS works and the benefits it can provide. Familiarize yourself with the concept of using pictures as a form of communication and how it can support individuals with communication challenges. For a comprehensive guide on PECS, you can refer to their article on picture exchange communication system.

Creating a PECS Communication System

Creating a PECS communication system involves setting up the necessary materials and tools to support effective communication. This typically includes a PECS communication book or binder, picture cards, and a means of storing and organizing the cards. The communication book should be easily accessible and organized in a way that allows individuals to easily locate and exchange the picture cards.

Strategies for Effective PECS Implementation

Implementing PECS successfully requires employing effective strategies that promote communication and understanding. Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Visual Prompts: Use visual prompts to support communication. Place visual cues or reminders in the environment to help individuals remember to use the PECS system.
  2. Consistency and Repetition: Consistency is key when implementing PECS. Encourage regular and repetitive use of the system to reinforce communication skills and promote understanding.
  3. Modeling: Model the use of PECS by demonstrating how to exchange picture cards and communicate using the system. This helps individuals learn and understand the process more effectively.
  4. Gradual Expansion: Start with a few basic picture cards and gradually expand the vocabulary and complexity of the communication system as individuals become more comfortable and proficient. This gradual expansion allows for the development and growth of language skills.
  5. Individualization: Tailor the PECS system to meet the specific needs and abilities of each individual. Adapt the system to their communication goals, preferences, and developmental stage.

Remember, implementing PECS requires patience, consistency, and individualized support. It is important to provide ongoing guidance and reinforcement as individuals learn and grow their communication skills.

By following these strategies and understanding the process of implementing PECS communication, individuals with communication challenges can effectively express themselves and engage in meaningful interactions.

Supporting and Expanding PECS Communication

Once individuals have established a foundation in using the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), it is important to support and expand their communication skills. This section focuses on three key aspects: building vocabulary and language skills, advancing to sentence construction, and reinforcing and expanding PECS communication in different settings.

Building Vocabulary and Language Skills

Building vocabulary and language skills is a crucial step in the development of communication using PECS. It involves gradually introducing new words and concepts to expand the individual's communication repertoire. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Introduce new pictures: Continuously introduce new pictures representing objects, actions, and concepts relevant to the individual's daily life. This helps to broaden their vocabulary and understanding of the world around them.
  • Label and describe: Encourage the individual to label and describe items using PECS. This helps them develop expressive language skills and enhances their ability to communicate their needs and preferences effectively.
  • Expand categories: Group related pictures together to help the individual make connections and expand their understanding of different categories. For instance, grouping pictures of animals or food items can help them develop a broader vocabulary within those categories.

Advancing to Sentence Construction

As individuals become more comfortable with using PECS for basic communication, the next step is to advance to sentence construction. This allows for more complex communication and the expression of thoughts and ideas in a more comprehensive manner. Here are some strategies to support this progression:

  • Introduce sentence strips: Add sentence strips with visual prompts to help individuals combine multiple pictures to form simple sentences. This can gradually progress to more complex sentence structures as their language skills develop.
  • Model sentence construction: Model sentence construction by using PECS yourself and verbally expressing the sentence. This helps individuals understand the structure and order of words in a sentence.
  • Encourage longer sentences: Prompt individuals to expand their sentences by adding additional information or describing actions and attributes. This helps them develop more detailed and meaningful communication.

Reinforcing and Expanding PECS Communication in Different Settings

To ensure the effectiveness of PECS communication, it is important to reinforce and expand its use across different settings. This helps individuals generalize their communication skills and apply them in various contexts. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Consistency across environments: Encourage consistency in the use of PECS across different environments, such as home, school, and community settings. This provides individuals with opportunities to practice their communication skills in various situations.
  • Collaboration with communication partners: Collaborate with communication partners, such as family members, teachers, and therapists, to ensure consistent support and reinforcement of PECS communication. This collaboration helps individuals feel supported and encourages their continued progress.
  • Regular practice and review: Schedule regular practice sessions and review sessions to reinforce PECS communication skills. This helps individuals maintain and strengthen their skills over time.

By focusing on building vocabulary and language skills, advancing to sentence construction, and reinforcing and expanding PECS communication in different settings, individuals can continue to develop their communication abilities using this valuable system. Remember, each person's progress may vary, so it is important to personalize strategies to meet their specific needs.


Is PECS only for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

No, PECS is designed for individuals with communication difficulties, particularly those who are non-verbal or have limited verbal communication skills. It can be used for individuals with various developmental and communication disorders, as well as those with communication difficulties due to injury or illness.

Can PECS be used in conjunction with other forms of communication?

Yes, PECS can be used alongside other forms of communication such as speech therapy or sign language. It is important to work with a qualified professional to determine the most appropriate form of communication for the individual.

How long does it take to see results from using PECS?

The length of time it takes to see results from using PECS varies depending on the individual's needs and abilities. Some individuals may progress quickly through the phases while others may require more time and support. Consistency and repetition are key to the success of the program.

Can adults benefit from using PECS?

Yes, PECS is suitable for individuals of all ages, including adults. It can provide a means of communication for adults who have limited verbal communication skills or are non-verbal.

Do I need special training to implement PECS?

While it is recommended to seek guidance from a qualified professional before starting the program, there are online resources and training programs available for parents, caregivers, and professionals who wish to implement PECS. It is important to ensure that the program is tailored to the individual's needs and abilities.


PECS is an effective communication system for individuals with communication difficulties, particularly those who are non-verbal or have limited verbal communication skills. It provides a means of communication, promotes social interaction, and improves language skills. By using picture cards, individuals can express their needs, wants, and ideas, reducing frustration and challenging behavior. If you are a caregiver or professional working with individuals with communication difficulties, consider implementing PECS as a means of communication.







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