What is Picture Exchange Communication System?


PECS is the acronym for Picture Exchange Communication System. It is a low-tech AAC (Alternative Augmentative Communication) system made from a small, portable binder, Velcro, and laminated visual icons. 

The visual icons are a collection of core vocabulary words and essential and familiar words to the child. It is made up of six sequential stages that follow the same order of language development in children with typically developing language abilities. PECS is taught at increasing complexities and through many of the same principles as ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) therapy. Communication behaviors are taught through a series of rewards.

Before beginning PECS training, it is essential to find what each child finds most rewarding. These select items are most typically favorite foods or favorite toys. The child’s preferred items are used as reinforcers in the beginning stages of PECS when learning that an exchange must happen to get the reinforcer.

The child must initiate that exchange and discrimination between preferred items and non-preferred items. In the following stages, the child learns to expand their communication to request in sentences (ex. “I want the ball”), knows how to answer questions, and learns to comment. PECS offers an alternative way to promote functional communication and reduce communication breakdowns.


PECS was originally designed as an alternative form of communication for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Many children with ASD exhibit echolalia or frequent imitation of speech. In these instances, PECS teaches functional and meaningful communication rather than communicative messages that are imitated. PECS can be a great substitute for the individual to get their wants and needs met for children with limited verbal output.

It is also a great tool for children with traditional speech abilities but who demonstrate difficulty with social exchanges, initiation, and answering questions for communicative purposes. PECS can serve as visual support to aid in expanding utterance length. Although PECS was originally created for children with ASD, it has since expanded and is recognized as a successful means of communication for children with a wide variety of speech and language impairments.


On the contrary! More and more research is suggesting that PECS can aid in helping children with communication impairments develop traditional speech at a faster rate. For many children, PECS can be a precursor to speech and act as extra visual support to assist with the development of traditional speech. For some children, the verbal output is sometimes too difficult and outside the range of their abilities. PECS can be a precursor to a higher-tech AAC device (i.e., iPad, Dynavox, Speakeasy, etc.). If you think your child could benefit from PECS, ask your local Speech-Language Pathologist today!






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