Picture Exchange Communication Systems

What is PECS?

Picture Exchange Communication Systems(PECS) is an AAC system used to teach functional communication skills to those of all ages and disabilities. PECS uses pictures icons and motivating items to teach individuals to request preferences. Over the progressive PECS phases, learners acquire the ability to form sentences, make appropriate comments, and answer questions.

PECS has been successful with individuals of all ages demonstrating a range of communication deficits. In some cases, learners utilizing PECS have developed expressive speech skills during the intervention process. Other individuals may transition to another AAC device, such as a VOCA or iPad. The purpose of PECS is to provide individuals who have unreliable communication skills with an effective, efficient, and understandable way to express their wants and needs—and 30 years of research and results suggest that PECS is doing just that.

How Does PECS Benefit Those with Autism and Other Disabilities?

For students with autism, as well as some students with other disabilities, PECS is an effective, efficient communication strategy that capitalizes on their comparative strengths in visual processing.  Because language development is commonly delayed or uneven in individuals with ASD, instructors need to identify other tools for expression, protestation, and overall communication. PECS is a research-supported, relatively simple-to-learn strategy that many learners with ASD respond to. Moreover, the widespread use of PECS in classrooms and other autism programs often means that learners with ASD are exposed to PECS symbols, terminology, and procedures at a young age.

What is the Role of PECS in AHRC New York City’s Schools?

PECS is recognized as an important teaching tool for virtually all students with autism at some point in their educational experience, as well as students with other language disabilities. Given the relative strengths in visual processing as well as their inherent difficulties with communication (especially spoken language), learners with autism are excellent candidates to benefit from PECS. As a result, all of our schools utilize PECS to some degree, depending on the individual needs of the students and their respective communication profiles.

Our school-based speech/language therapists are constantly evaluating the emergent communication skills of our students and determining the potential role of interventions such as PECS. Some students are recipients of phase-based PECS training while others learn to use pictures to complement other communication strategies. Entering a classroom, it would be quite evident that PECS plays an important role in AHRC NYC schools and that many students have become more effective, efficient communicators due to the teachers’ introduction of this well-established picture exchange system.