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Columbia Grange School

Little Steps, Big Aspirations For All




The Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS, is an approach that teaches early communication skills using pictures. Students are taught to exchange pictures for something they want.
The primary goal of PECS is to teach functional communication. Research has shown that some learners using PECS also develop speech.
People using PECS are taught to approach another person and give them a picture of a desired item in exchange for that item. By doing so, the person is able to initiate communication. A child or adult with autism can use PECS to communicate a request, a thought, or anything that can reasonably be displayed or symbolized on a picture card. PECS works well in the home or in the classroom.

PECS was developed in 1984 by Lori Frost, MS, CCC/SLP and Dr. Andrew Bondy. It was first used at the Delaware Autistic Program. The goal of (PECS) is to teach children with autism a fast, self-initiating, functional communication system. PECS begins with the exchange of simple icons but rapidly builds "sentence" structure.


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. It is crucial that in the early phases NOT to preā€empt, but to wait for children to hand over the picture first, so they INITIATE the communication rather than responding to an adult. Teaching the children to initiate the communication themselves is key. 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 to comment.
A physical prompter and a communicative partner will be required to introduce each new stage of PECS. It is important that the physical prompter remains silent and the communicative partner does not verbally prompt the child.

How to Communicate
Individuals learn to exchange single pictures for items or activities they really want. Motivating items need to firstly be identified and then used to entice the child.
Distance and Persistence
Still using single pictures, individuals 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. Particular attention should be made to this stage of PECS to ensure the child is consistently using persistence and distance across all settings before moving on to sentence structure.

Picture Discrimination
Individuals learn to select from two or more pictures to ask for their favorite things. These are placed in a PECS Communication Book—a ringed binder with self-adhesive hook fastener strips where pictures are stored and easily removed for communication.

Sentence Structure
Individuals learn to construct simple sentences on a detachable Sentence Strip using an “I want” picture followed by a picture of the item being requested.

Individuals learn to expand their sentences by adding adjectives, verbs and prepositions.

Responsive Requesting
Individuals learn to use PECS to answer questions such as “What do you want?”

Individuals 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.

* Staff can refer to the document ‘PECS - Steps for implementation’ for further guidance on the implementation of the individual phases of PECS. This document is available on the Google Drive in the Curriculum > Communication > PECS folder.


Refer to the flowchart ‘Is this person a candidate for PECS’ (found in curriculum folder on Google Drive) to determine whether PECS is an appropriate intervention for the individual.

All pupils using PECS should start on Phase I and work through the different phases. Particular attention should be paid to persistence and distance in PHASE II to ensure that each child demonstrates a solid understanding of how to travel to their file to retrieve a symbol and then travel to the communicative partner to initiate. The sentence strip should NOT be introduced until the child has achieved this stage.

Adults should model the language on the symbol and children should be encouraged to imitate through the use of pregnant pauses.

PECS training also can occur during more unstructured learning activities such as during
free play or on the playground. Teachers and other classroom staff must be vigilant to
ensure that PECS training takes place across daily routines and activities. PECS files should be available for all children using PECS which will include symbols of motivating items/activities. It is also key that the child has constant access to their PECS files. Files should be kept in a place the child has ease of access to e.g. velcro file onto the classroom wall.
All adults who come into contact with the child should be made aware of PECS and how the individual child is using it. This may mean working with lunchtime support staff etc. It is also very important that parents/carers are involved. Once Phase 1 has been established the child should be encouraged to use this system in all settings and for all requests and their file should transition around school/home with them.


Teachers should monitor and assess progress termly using the PECS assessment tool. This is located on the Google Drive in Curriculum > Communication > PECS folder. Pupils’ individual progress will be assessed, monitored and fed back to SALT, SLT and parents. An individual record of progress will be kept in pupils’ individual folder on the Google Drive. It is the class teachers responsibility to keep this updated.
The quantitative data should be analysed annually by assessment lead, SALT and class teachers to determine the effectiveness of PECS on the individual. Progress will be reflected in the PECS assessment, SCERTS assessments and within the individuals EHCP. The qualitative data of the child’s progress using PECS will be reflected in other areas e.g. pupil passports, home school diaries, meetings/discussions with parents and will include perspectives from both school and home.
It is hoped that children using PECS will display considerable increases in intentional communicative acts with marked increases in requesting and the development of communication from augmentation of speech with pictures to speech only utterances. This in effect, will have a positive impact on all areas of their learning and development across the curriculum.


For more information - click the link below to the developer of PECS website Pyramid Educational Consultants