Picture Exchange Communication System

Picture exchange communication system (PECS) is a communication program that originated in 1985 as an effective way to help nonverbal people on the spectrum have their wants and needs known. The primary use for PECS is to communicate basic needs to help reduce negative behaviors and improve contentment in the autistic child. Over the decades, PECS use has evolved and is used by speech pathologists to encourage language development and encourage speech. Join us for a high-level overview of this useful tool that has expanded to meet the needs of millions, both on and off the spectrum.

Picture Exchange Communication System Basics

Picture exchange systems use images of known objects, people, and expressions that allow nonverbal people to simply find and point to what they need, think, or feel. For most children, adverse behaviors are a direct result of not having their needs met and increase with agitation and frustration when they are unable to successfully communicate those needs. Utilizing a PECS allows the nonverbal child to communicate with parents, educators, and caregivers.

Parents can make their own PECS books or cards using images from home, or they can offer commercially made tablet-style devices to help.

The Steps of PECS

The benefits to using picture exchange communication systems are numerous due to its simplicity for both the communicator and the listener. Unlike sign language or Braille, there are no special tools or a new language. Like anything else, however, effectively using the PECS requires some education and coordination. There are essentially six stages to successfully using the PECS system.

Phase I: setting up communication requires you and your child to work together to create a PECS that works for them, with pictures of items, tasks, and emotions that they will use and removing ones that won’t. In initial phases, it may be easier to use actual photos of your child’s objects and create a small photo album for them.

Phase II: distance and persistence teaches children to use the PECS in various settings with different people.

Phase III: picture differentiation helps children broaden the general images to help specify between similar objects such as their favorite book.

Phase IV: sentence structure begins by using basic word groups including “I want…” “I need…” or “I feel….” to help the child better communicate and formulate language.

Phase V: responsive communication occurs when the child learns to use the PECS to answer questions that are asked and express more than basic needs.

Phase VI: commenting begins and in conjunction with the PECS, learns spoken communication.

Many nonverbal or communication challenged children on the spectrum have found great success using picture exchange systems to begin learning communication skills. Once a child is able to make their needs and wants known, communication is much more effective and can lead to language and speech development. Additionally, when the child is able to have their needs met, it may help reduce negative behaviors including aggression. When PECS is used in conjunction with speech-language therapy, the child with autism has the best chances for learning to successfully communicate. Connect with us online to learn more, and reach out to a speech pathologist today!