What is PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System)?

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No, we’re not talking about those muscles we work so hard to develop in a gym! Rather, PECS is a unique augmentative communication system used with children diagnosed with autism. Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) was developed in 1985 by Andy Bondy, PhD, and Lori Frost, MS, CCC-SLP based on B.F. Skinner’s book, Verbal Behavior, and modified broad spectrum Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

The primary goal of PECS is to teach functional communication. Research has shown that some learners using PECS also develop speech. PECS consists of six phases and begins by teaching an individual to give a single picture of a desired item or action to a “communicative partner” who immediately honors the exchange as a request. The system goes on to teach discrimination of pictures and how to put them together in sentences. In the more advanced phases, individuals are taught to use modifiers, answer questions, and comment.

PECS was first implemented with preschool students diagnosed with autism at the Delaware Autism Program. Specific prompting (a “hint” that brings about a specific behavior) and reinforcement strategies that lead to independent communication are used throughout the PECS protocol. Verbal prompts are not used, thus building immediate initiation and avoiding prompt dependency.

The Six Phases of PECS

  • PECS Phase I: How to Communicate: Children learn to exchange single pictures for items or activities they want.
  • PECS PHASE II: Distance and Persistence: Children learn to generalize their new skill by using the pictures in different places and with different people.
  • PECS PHASE III: Picture Discrimination: In this phase, children learn to select from two or more pictures to ask for their favorite things. These pictures are placed in a PECS Communication Book—a binder with self-adhesive strips where the pictures are stored can be easily removed for communication. 
  • PECS PHASE IV: Sentence Structure: Children learn to construct simple sentence on a detachable Sentence Strip using an “I want” picture followed by a picture of the item being requested.
  • PECS PHASE V: Answering Questions: Also known as Responsive Requesting as children learn to use PECS to answer questions, such as “What do you want?”
  • PECS PHASE VI: Commenting: Children 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” or “I hear” or “I feel” or “It is a” . . . and so forth.

In addition to treating children with autism, PECS has been used in the treatment of a number of diagnoses that have developmental and/or communication difficulties or delays. PECS is used with the children we treat at our Tandem Therapy Clinics as well as in-home therapy.

This blog has adapted information from various websites that include: Kids Sense; Pyramid Educational Consultants; Indiana Resource Center for Autism

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