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 MODULE: Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) 


PECS falls into the category of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems and is considered an aided technique (Mirenda, 2003). AAC systems are included in a larger grouping of systems and methods that are used to help individuals who do not have typical verbal skills communicate with others. Examples of commonly used AAC systems include sign language and picture boards. PECS is another type of AAC system that was designed to teach children with limited functional communication skills to initiate communicative exchanges and interactions within a social context.

According to the developers of PECS, it is a behaviorally based intervention that teaches the learner to use visual-graphic symbols to communicate with others (Bondy & Frost, 1994; Frost & Bondy, 2002). With PECS, learners are taught to give a picture or graphic symbol of a desired item to a communicative partner in exchange for the actual item. PECS is the system of communication, not to be confused with how PECS is taught and used (e.g., behavioral principles).

There are six phases of PECS instruction, each building on the last. The phases include the following:

  • teaching the physically assisted exchange
  • expanding spontaneity
  • simultaneous discrimination of pictures
  • building sentence structure
  • responding to “What do you want?”
  • commenting (initially in response to a question and later spontaneously)

Unlike other graphic systems of communication, the individual using PECS hands the symbol depicting a desired item to the communicative partner. After learners understand that PECS can be used to make requests (e.g., mands), it can be extended to other communicative functions (e.g., labeling, questioning) and to other contexts (e.g., home, community).

Each of the phases will be explained more in depth throughout the module. It is essential that the phases are taught sequentially.

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