Picture Exchange Communication System

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is an approach that supports communication skills using pictures.

It is an easy programme to follow, created by Andrew Bondy in 1985 who wanted to teach functional communication.  It is made up of six stages beginning with simple pictures to communicate needs, progressing to building complex sentences. It is important to introduce the stages gradually and only move onto the next stage when the child is ready. Your STARS  advisor will support you in doing this. 

It is appropriate for all ages and for a wide range of speech & communication difficulties such as Autism.

How is it done?

In the first stage the child learns to exchange a picture for an item they really want.  It is taught with two adults:  the ‘communicative adult’ receives the picture and honours the child.  The ‘prompter’ sits/stands behind the child and prompts them to pick up and hand over the picture by moving the child’s arm or hand.  It is important that the prompter is quiet, as it is hoped over time that the child will become independent and spontaneous in handing over the picture.  As the child hands over the picture, the communicative adult says the item name, e.g. “Biscuit!” and responds immediately by giving the child a biscuit.

There are many opportunities to use PECS throughout the day with different motivating items, for example with food at snack times or toys that need adult help to wind up/turn on.

In this stage the child is still using one picture to request a highly desired item but the communicative adult moves away slightly, so that the child has to travel to them to hand over the picture.  If the child is successfully moving toward the communicative adult, turn away slightly so the child has to ‘nag’ to get the item.

By now a PECS book is usually introduced (a Velcro book where the pictures can be held).  Two pictures are introduced so that the child learns to discriminate between the two and choose their preferred item.

The child learns to construct a simple sentence using a sentence strip with an “I want” picture and the picture of their motivating item.

At this stage the child begins to learn that they can use PECS to answer the question “What do you want?”.

By this stage we begin to introduce:

  • “I hear”
  • “I see”
  • “It is a”

This is so the child can begin to comment if asked questions.  Attributes are also introduced at this stage.  These are words that can be used to extend a sentence for example “I want a big red ball” (attributes underlined).

What about speech?

There has been research around the use of PECS and it does not delay nor hinder speech, instead it can be used to support and scaffold a child’s speech.  Even if a child does not learn to speak they will have a means of communicating with others using the picture exchange system.

Where can I learn more?

www.pecs.com or www.nas.org.uk

or your Speech & Language therapist (SALT) or the STARS team.