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What is PECS?

Picture Exchange Communication System

Developed by Andrew S. Bondy, Ph.D. & Lori Frost, M.S., CCC/SLP

PECS was developed in 1985 as a unique augmentative/alternative communication intervention package for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and related developmental disabilities. First used at the Delaware Autistic Program, PECS has received worldwide recognition for focusing on the initiation component of communication. PECS does not require complex or expensive materials. It was created with families, educators, and resident care providers in mind, so is readily used in a range of settings.

PECS begins by teaching an individual to give a picture of a desired item to a “communicative partner", who immediately honours 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 answer questions and to comment.

The PECS teaching protocol is based on B.F. Skinner’s book, Verbal Behavior, such that functional verbal operants are systematically taught using prompting and reinforcement strategies that will lead to independent communication. Verbal prompts are not used, thus building immediate initiation and avoiding prompt dependency.

PECS has been successful with individuals of all ages demonstrating a variety of communicative, cognitive and physical difficulties. Some learners using PECS also develop speech. Others may transition to a voice output system. The body of research supporting the effectiveness of PECS continues to expand, with research from countries around the world.

The Six Phases of PECS

PHASE I
How to Communicate
Students learn to exchange single pictures for items or activities they really want.

PHASE II
Distance and Persistence
Still using single pictures, students learn to generalise this new skill by using it in different places, with different people and across distances. They are also taught to be more persistent communicators.

PHASE III
Picture Discrimination
Students learn to select from two or more pictures to ask for their favourite things. These are placed in a communication book—a ring binder with Velcro® strips where pictures are stored and easily removed for communication.

PHASE IV
Sentence Structure
Students learn to construct simple sentences on a detachable sentence strip using an “I want” picture followed by a picture of the item being requested.

Attributes and Language Expansion
Students learn to expand their sentences by adding adjectives, verbs and prepositions.

PHASE V
Answering Questions
Students learn to use PECS to answer the question, “What do you want?”.

PHASE VI
Commenting
Now students 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”, “I hear”, “I feel”, “It is a”, etc.

Picture Exchange Communication System®, PECS®, and Pyramid Approach to Education® are the registered trademarks of Pyramid Educational Consultants, Inc.