March 5, 2021
PECS 101: The Picture Exchange Communication System

PECS 101: The Picture Exchange Communication System

Using pictures to tell a story is one of the oldest forms of communication.  The PECS system is one of the most successful ways for teaches to communicate.

There is No Greater Peace Than to be Understood

For our nonverbal students, being in the classroom and unable to communicate can be very challenging. The Picture Exchange Communication System offers an alternative that has been successfully implemented in thousands of schools worldwide.

What Is PECS and Why is it Important

Imagine living in a world where you have no way to communicate with the people around you, for our nonverbal students this world is a reality. The PECS approach is designed for early intervention and uses symbolic communication as a way for nonverbal students to express their wants and needs.

This process will eventually modify these behaviors in a way that helps maintain a functional and happy student. What’s great about the Picture Exchange System is that it is applied during normal activities throughout the school day. As you transition through the daily schedule the student will be shown pictures of things they will receive or will be engaging in, such as play dough or puzzles, even a symbol for drink and bathroom. The teacher will use these pictures to help the student transition through daily activities.

During specials, the student will receive a picture representing what’s coming next, such as gym, music, or library. This routine of exchanges throughout the day will help create a safe and comfortable environment for both teacher and student.

Phases I-III

In the first phase, the student begins to understand how to communicate by learning how to receive an item or activity they desire by exchanging a single picture. The teacher does this by using modeling, physical prompting, and by giving the student their very own PECS binder that will eventually store all of their pictures with velcro for easy removal.

The second phase is all about distance and persistence, the student practices the new skills by using them in different locations and distances. The third phase brings the new challenge of discriminating between multiple pictures, the student learns how to ask for what they want when two preferred items are presented, this is where the error correction procedure is introduced.

Phases IV-VI

The next three phases in the system will begin to grow communication skills on a more advanced level. Teachers will model sentence structure in phase four by adding a detachable sentence strip to the students’ PECS binder with the picture for “I want” attached. Phase five builds on the previous skills by prompting responsive requesting, or the skill of using the sentence strip to respond to the question “what do you want?”

The final phase is all about commenting, students learn to engage in conversation by answering questions like, “What do you see?”, “What do you like?” and “What is it?” Children who successfully move through all these phases are shown to become more independent, better regulated, and well adjusted.

The Secret to the Success of The PECS Approach

PECS has proven itself as a highly beneficial tool in creating healthy and independent communication for children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The secret to its success is consistency and mastery. PECS done correctly is done EVERYWHERE. Students learn important social aspects of their daily lives and how to tolerate change and learn to grow into high functioning individuals.