The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)The Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS, allows children with autism who have little or no communication abilities, a means of communicating non-verbally. Children 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 child is able to initiate communication. The child 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.

At one time many people opposed the use of PECS and sign language to teach children with autism to communicate. They argued that these methods would hurt the development of spoken language. However, there have now been several studies that have shown PECS actually helps people develop verbal language, can decrease tantrums and odd behaviors and allows for increased socialization.

The Six Phases of the Picture Exchange Communication System Are:
  • PECS PHASE I: How to Communicate
    The child with autism learns to exchange single pictures for items or activities they really want.
  • PECS PHASE II: Distance and Persistence
    Still using single pictures, the child with autism learn to generalize this new skill by using it in different places, with different people and across distances. They are also taught to be more persistent communicators.
  • PECS PHASE III: Picture Discrimination
    The child with autism learns to select from two or more pictures to ask for their favorite things. These are placed in a communication book, a ring binder with Velcro strips where pictures are stored and easily removed for communication.
  • PECS PHASE IV: Sentence Structure
    The child with autism learns to construct simple sentences on a detachable sentence strip using an "I want" picture followed by a picture of the item being requested.
  • PECS PHASE V: Answering Questions
    The child with autism learns to use PECS to answer the question, "What do you want?"
  • PECS PHASE VI: Commenting
    Now the child with autism is 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.
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