Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

Discover the heartwarming world of Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). More than symbols, PECS is a pathway to connection and understanding for individuals with diverse communication needs.

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
June 11, 2024
Published On
June 11, 2024

Understanding Autism and Communication Challenges

Individuals with autism often face unique challenges when it comes to communication. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication, and restricted or repetitive behaviors. Let's explore ASD and the communication difficulties experienced by individuals on the autism spectrum.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex condition that affects individuals differently. It is characterized by a wide range of symptoms and behaviors that can vary in severity. ASD encompasses a spectrum, meaning that individuals may experience different levels of impairment in communication, social interaction, and behavior.

Some common characteristics of ASD include difficulties in social interactions and forming relationships, repetitive behaviors, intense focus on specific interests, and challenges in verbal and nonverbal communication. It is important to recognize that each person with autism is unique and may exhibit a combination of different traits and strengths.

Communication Difficulties in Individuals with Autism

Communication difficulties are a hallmark feature of autism. Individuals with autism may face challenges in various aspects of communication, including verbal and nonverbal communication. Here are some common communication difficulties experienced by individuals with autism:

  • Verbal Communication: Some individuals with autism may have delayed language development or struggle with expressive language skills. They may have difficulty initiating or maintaining conversations, using appropriate tone and volume, and understanding non-literal language, such as idioms or sarcasm.
  • Nonverbal Communication: Nonverbal communication, such as body language, facial expressions, and gestures, can be challenging for individuals with autism. They may have difficulty interpreting and using nonverbal cues to understand others or express themselves.
  • Social Communication: Individuals with autism often struggle with social communication skills, such as taking turns in conversation, understanding social cues, and establishing and maintaining relationships. They may have difficulty understanding and responding appropriately to social norms and expectations.
  • Functional Communication: Some individuals with autism may have limited functional communication skills, leading to frustration and difficulty expressing their needs, wants, and feelings. This can result in behaviors such as tantrums or withdrawal.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is one approach that can help address these communication challenges and support individuals with autism in expressing themselves effectively.

Understanding the communication difficulties faced by individuals with autism is essential in order to provide appropriate support and interventions that can enhance their communication skills and overall quality of life.

Introduction to Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

For individuals with autism who face challenges in communication, the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) offers a valuable method of enhancing their ability to express themselves and interact with others. PECS is a widely recognized and effective communication system specifically designed for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In this section, we will delve into what PECS is and how it works.

What is PECS?

PECS is a systematic approach to communication that utilizes visual supports to help individuals with autism initiate and engage in communication. It is based on the concept of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), providing a means of communication for individuals who struggle with speech or have limited verbal skills.

At the core of PECS is the notion of using pictures or symbols to represent objects, actions, or concepts. These pictures serve as a form of communication, allowing individuals with autism to convey their needs, desires, and thoughts to others. PECS provides a structured framework that empowers individuals to communicate their wants and needs effectively.

How Does PECS Work?

PECS follows a series of stages that gradually introduce and reinforce communication skills. The process typically begins by teaching individuals to exchange a single picture (often referred to as an "icon" or "PECS card") with a communication partner in exchange for a desired item or activity. This exchange is facilitated through the use of a communication book or binder that holds a collection of PECS cards.

As individuals become proficient in exchanging single pictures, they progress to more advanced stages, such as constructing simple sentences using a sequence of pictures or expanding their vocabulary. The ultimate goal of PECS is to develop functional communication skills that allow individuals with autism to communicate effectively in various contexts.

Using PECS promotes the development of important communication skills, such as requesting, commenting, and initiating social interactions. It provides individuals with a structured and visual means of communication, reducing frustration and promoting engagement with others.

To implement PECS effectively, it is important to create a personalized PECS system tailored to the individual's specific needs and abilities. This includes selecting appropriate pictures, organizing them in a communication book or binder, and establishing consistent routines and reinforcement strategies.

By introducing PECS as a communication tool, individuals with autism can gain more independence, improve social interactions, and enhance their overall quality of life.

In the following sections, we will explore the numerous benefits of PECS for individuals with autism, as well as practical tips for implementing PECS in various settings.

Benefits of PECS for Individuals with Autism

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) has proven to be a valuable tool in supporting individuals with autism in overcoming communication challenges. By using visual aids and a structured approach, PECS offers several benefits that enhance communication skills and promote independence and self-advocacy.

Enhancing Communication Skills

PECS provides individuals with autism a means to communicate their needs, wants, and thoughts effectively. By using visual symbols and exchanging them with a communication partner, individuals with autism can express themselves and initiate social interactions.

One of the key advantages of PECS is its flexibility in accommodating different communication abilities. It allows individuals to start with simple requests and gradually progress to more complex sentences and conversations. This step-by-step approach promotes language development and expands communication skills over time.

By using PECS, individuals with autism can overcome the frustration and challenges often associated with verbal communication difficulties. It empowers them to express their desires, share information, and engage in social interactions, fostering a sense of connection and inclusion.

Promoting Independence and Self-Advocacy

Another significant benefit of PECS is its ability to promote independence and self-advocacy in individuals with autism. By using visual supports, individuals can make choices, request assistance, and participate in decision-making.

PECS supports individuals with autism in various settings, such as at home, school, and in the community. It allows them to communicate their preferences, express their opinions, and assert their needs. This not only enhances their autonomy but also fosters a sense of self-confidence and empowerment.

With the help of PECS, individuals with autism can actively participate in their daily routines, educational activities, and social interactions. It enables them to be heard and understood, promoting their overall well-being and quality of life.

By recognizing and utilizing the benefits of PECS, individuals with autism and their caregivers can make significant strides in communication and social interaction. The consistent use of PECS, along with positive reinforcement and guidance from professionals, can further enhance its effectiveness.

Remember to explore additional resources such as PECS communication books and PECS communication cards to support the implementation of PECS. Consulting with a speech therapist or participating in a PECS training program can also provide valuable insights and guidance.

Implementing PECS: Getting Started

When it comes to implementing the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) for individuals with autism, there are a few essential steps to consider. This section will guide you through the initial stages of PECS implementation, including assessing readiness for PECS and creating a PECS system tailored to the individual's needs.

Assessing Readiness for PECS

Before introducing PECS, it's important to assess whether the individual with autism is ready for this communication system. Consider the following factors:

  • Motivation: Determine if the individual shows an interest in communicating or has a desire to express their needs and wants. Look for signs of engagement, such as eye contact, reaching for desired objects, or using gestures.
  • Visual Skills: Assess the individual's ability to attend to and understand visual cues. Can they visually discriminate between different objects or images? Do they show an understanding of picture-based instructions?
  • Physical Skills: Consider the individual's fine motor skills and their ability to manipulate objects. Can they grasp and release objects, point to pictures, or use simple hand movements?
  • Cognitive Skills: Evaluate the individual's cognitive abilities and their understanding of cause and effect relationships. Do they demonstrate problem-solving skills or show an understanding of symbols?

By assessing these readiness factors, you can determine if the individual is prepared to engage with the PECS system effectively. PECS can be introduced at various developmental stages, and modifications can be made to accommodate individual needs.

Creating a PECS System

Once you have assessed the readiness for PECS, it's time to create a personalized PECS system. Here are the key steps involved:

  • Communication Book: Start by creating a communication book or binder where the individual can store and access their communication cards. This book serves as a portable communication tool and should be easily accessible to the individual.
  • Communication Cards: Develop a set of communication cards that represent the individual's needs, wants, and commonly used vocabulary. These cards can be pictures, symbols, or photographs, depending on the individual's preferences and abilities. Each card should be clear, visually appealing, and easily understood.
  • Training and Modeling: Introduce the PECS system to the individual through explicit training and modeling. Show them how to take a card, hand it to a communication partner, and exchange it for the desired item or action. Consistency and repetition are key during this training phase.
  • Expansion and Generalization: As the individual becomes comfortable with PECS, gradually expand their vocabulary by introducing new communication cards. Encourage them to use PECS in different environments and with various communication partners. This helps promote generalization of communication skills.

Remember, successful implementation of PECS requires ongoing support, practice, and patience. Celebrate every communication success and provide positive reinforcement to encourage the individual's engagement with the PECS system.

In the next section, we will explore how to incorporate PECS into everyday life, including at home, school, and in community settings. Stay tuned for valuable insights on utilizing PECS effectively to support individuals with autism in their communication journey.

Using PECS in Everyday Life

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a versatile and effective tool for individuals with autism to enhance their communication skills. PECS can be implemented in various settings, including at home, school, and in community settings, to facilitate effective communication and foster independence.

PECS at Home

Implementing PECS at home is a valuable way to support communication and interaction between individuals with autism and their caregivers. By creating a structured and visual environment, PECS can help individuals express their needs, wants, and preferences effectively.

When using PECS at home, it's important to create a PECS system tailored to the individual's specific needs. This may involve using a PECS communication book or PECS communication cards that include relevant images or symbols representing desired objects, activities, or requests. These visual supports can be used during daily routines, such as mealtime, playtime, or getting ready for bed, to facilitate communication and reduce frustration.

Consistency is key when implementing PECS at home. Encourage the individual to use the PECS system consistently and provide positive reinforcement when they successfully communicate using the system. With practice and support, individuals with autism can develop their communication skills and gain a sense of independence.

PECS at School

PECS can also be effectively utilized in educational settings to support communication and participation for individuals with autism. By incorporating PECS into the school environment, educators can create an inclusive and supportive learning environment.

Teachers and support staff can work collaboratively to create a PECS system that aligns with the individual's educational goals and communication needs. This may involve using a PECS communication book or providing access to communication cards that represent important concepts, activities, or instructions.

During classroom activities, educators can encourage the use of PECS to facilitate communication and comprehension. Visual supports can be used to assist with transitions between activities, communication during group discussions, or requesting assistance. By incorporating PECS into the daily routine, individuals with autism can actively participate in classroom activities and develop their communication skills.

PECS in Community Settings

The benefits of PECS extend beyond the home and school environments. PECS can be utilized in community settings to support individuals with autism in their interactions with others and promote their independence.

When venturing into community settings such as grocery stores, restaurants, or recreational facilities, caregivers can provide individuals with a portable PECS system. This may involve using a small communication book or a set of communication cards that can be easily carried and accessed. These visual supports can assist individuals in making choices, expressing preferences, or communicating their needs to others in the community.

By using PECS in community settings, individuals with autism can gain confidence in their ability to communicate and actively engage in social interactions. Caregivers can provide support and guidance, reinforcing the use of PECS and celebrating successful communication exchanges.

Remember, PECS is most effective when used consistently and in conjunction with other strategies and interventions. Seeking professional guidance, such as PECS speech therapy or participating in a PECS training program, can further enhance the implementation and effectiveness of PECS in everyday life.

By incorporating PECS into home, school, and community settings, individuals with autism can overcome communication barriers and actively participate in various aspects of life, fostering their independence and self-expression.

Tips for Success with PECS

Implementing the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) can greatly benefit individuals with autism in improving their communication skills. To ensure the effectiveness of PECS, here are some valuable tips for success:

Consistency and Repetition

Consistency is key when using PECS. It's important to establish a routine and incorporate PECS into daily interactions consistently. This consistency helps individuals with autism become familiar with the system and understand its purpose. By consistently using PECS, individuals can develop a better grasp of the communication process and become more comfortable using the system.

Repetition is another crucial aspect of PECS implementation. Continually using the same communication strategies and reinforcing the use of PECS cards or symbols helps individuals reinforce their understanding and usage of the system. Consistent repetition allows for increased familiarity and promotes the development of communication skills over time.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement plays a significant role in motivating individuals with autism to engage with PECS. When they successfully use PECS to communicate their needs or desires, it's essential to provide positive reinforcement. This can be in the form of praise, encouragement, or a small reward, depending on what motivates the individual.

By associating positive experiences with the use of PECS, individuals are more likely to continue utilizing the system and feel encouraged to expand their communication abilities. Positive reinforcement helps build confidence and reinforces the value of communication, making the individual more inclined to engage in communication exchanges.

Seeking Professional Guidance

While PECS can be implemented by caregivers and educators, seeking professional guidance from speech therapists or other professionals who specialize in autism can greatly enhance the effectiveness of the system. These professionals can provide valuable insights, strategies, and personalized recommendations based on the individual's specific communication needs.

Professional guidance can help caregivers and educators better understand the nuances of PECS and tailor it to meet the unique requirements of the individual with autism. Speech therapists can also offer additional resources, such as PECS communication books and PECS communication cards, as well as provide PECS speech therapy or recommend a PECS training program to further support the individual's progress.

By incorporating these tips into the implementation of PECS, individuals with autism can experience greater success in using this communication system. Consistency and repetition create a solid foundation, positive reinforcement motivates continued engagement, and seeking professional guidance ensures that the system is effectively tailored to the individual's needs. Ultimately, these strategies contribute to enhanced communication skills and increased independence for individuals with autism.


As we wrap up our exploration of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), let's reflect on the transformative power it holds in bridging communication gaps. PECS isn't just a set of symbols; it's a bridge that connects individuals, unlocking the door to expression and understanding.

In our journey through PECS, we've witnessed how simple yet profound visual communication can be. It's more than just exchanging pictures; it's about fostering connection, building relationships, and empowering individuals with diverse communication abilities.

Remember, PECS isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. It's a dynamic and adaptable tool that grows with each person's unique needs. It's a reminder that communication is a fundamental human right, and PECS stands as a beacon, illuminating the path toward a more inclusive and communicative world.

Let's carry the spirit of PECS beyond this exploration. Whether you're a parent, caregiver, educator, or someone simply intrigued by the power of visuals, let's continue to embrace the beauty of diverse communication and celebrate the incredible journeys that unfold when we open up new avenues for connection. Here's to a world where every voice, in whatever form it takes, is heard and valued.