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PECS Autism: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers

PECS is a form of communication that uses pictures to help children with autism express themselves.

mark elias
Mark Elias
February 29, 2024

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

To comprehend the significance of PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) in autism, it is essential to have a solid understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the communication challenges associated with it.

Overview of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. ASD affects individuals across a broad spectrum, with varying degrees of impairment and strengths.

ASD is typically diagnosed in early childhood, although signs may be present in infancy. The condition can manifest in different ways, with individuals exhibiting unique patterns of behavior, interests, and challenges. While some individuals with ASD have exceptional abilities in specific areas, others may experience significant impairments in multiple domains.

Communication Challenges in Autism

One of the core challenges faced by individuals with autism is communication. Communication difficulties can manifest in various forms, such as:

  • Verbal Communication: Some individuals with ASD may have delays or difficulties in developing spoken language skills. They may struggle with expressive language, understanding social cues, and maintaining conversations.
  • Non-Verbal Communication: Others may face challenges in understanding and using non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, body language, and gestures. This can hinder their ability to interpret and respond appropriately in social interactions.
  • Social Communication: Individuals with ASD often struggle with social communication skills, such as turn-taking, initiating and maintaining conversations, understanding sarcasm, and grasping social nuances. These difficulties can impact their ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships.

To address these communication challenges, interventions like PECS have been developed to provide alternative ways of communication and support individuals with autism in expressing their needs, desires, and thoughts effectively.

What is PECS?

PECS, which stands for Picture Exchange Communication System, is a widely used communication approach designed to support individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in developing and enhancing their communication skills. PECS is particularly beneficial for individuals who experience challenges with verbal communication and expressive language.

Introduction to PECS

PECS is a systematic communication method that utilizes visual supports, such as pictures or symbols, to enable individuals with ASD to initiate and engage in functional communication. The core principle of PECS is to provide a structured and visual means of communication that promotes independence and reduces frustration.

By using PECS, individuals with ASD are empowered to express their needs, wants, and thoughts by selecting and exchanging pictures or symbols with a communication partner. This method encourages the development of spontaneous and functional communication skills, allowing individuals to effectively interact with others in their environment.

How PECS Works?

PECS follows a specific sequence of stages to teach and promote communication skills. The key stages of PECS implementation include:

  1. Initiation: The individual learns to initiate communication by exchanging a single picture or symbol with a communication partner to request a desired item or activity.
  2. Distance and Persistence: The individual learns to generalize the use of PECS by exchanging pictures or symbols with communication partners at increasing distances and in various environments.
  3. Discrimination: The individual learns to differentiate between different pictures or symbols to request specific items or activities.
  4. Sentence Structure: The individual progresses from using single pictures or symbols to constructing simple sentences using a sequence of pictures or symbols to express more complex thoughts and needs.

PECS is highly adaptable and can be customized to meet the specific needs of each individual with ASD. The use of visual supports, such as PECS, provides a visual representation of language and promotes comprehension and expression of ideas, even for individuals who struggle with verbal communication.

Understanding what PECS is and how it works can help parents and caregivers support their child's communication development and enhance their overall quality of life. By implementing PECS, individuals with ASD can gain the ability to effectively communicate their thoughts, desires, and needs, fostering greater independence and social interaction.

Benefits of PECS in Autism

PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) is a widely used communication method for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This section explores the benefits of implementing PECS as a communication tool for individuals with autism.

Enhancing Communication Skills

One of the key benefits of PECS is its ability to enhance communication skills in individuals with autism. By using visual supports such as pictures or symbols, PECS helps individuals with limited or no verbal language to initiate and engage in communication. This system provides a structured and visual way for individuals to express their wants, needs, and preferences.

PECS encourages individuals to actively participate in communication by selecting and exchanging pictures or symbols to convey their messages. This active involvement promotes the development of essential communication skills, including vocabulary expansion, sentence construction, and turn-taking.

Promoting Social Interaction

Another significant benefit of PECS is its potential to promote social interaction in individuals with autism. Through the use of pictures or symbols, PECS provides a common visual language that can be easily understood and shared by both the individual with autism and their communication partner.

PECS allows individuals to initiate and engage in social interactions, enabling them to express their thoughts, feelings, and desires with others. This can lead to improved social engagement, increased social reciprocity, and enhanced peer interactions. By promoting social interaction, PECS plays a vital role in fostering meaningful connections and relationships.

Reducing Challenging Behaviors

PECS has shown promise in reducing challenging behaviors often associated with communication difficulties in individuals with autism. By providing individuals with an effective means of communication, PECS can help to decrease frustration, anxiety, and the need for undesirable behaviors as a way of expressing their needs or wants.

By using PECS, individuals are empowered to communicate their needs and desires more effectively, reducing the likelihood of engaging in challenging behaviors. This can lead to a decrease in behaviors such as tantrums, self-injury, or aggression, as individuals are better equipped to express their needs and have them understood by others.

The benefits of implementing PECS in individuals with autism are significant, as it can enhance communication skills, promote social interaction, and reduce challenging behaviors. However, it's important to note that the effectiveness of PECS may vary for each individual.

It is recommended to consult with professionals and consider individual needs when determining if PECS is the right communication system for your child with autism.

Implementing PECS

Implementing the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) can be a valuable tool for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). By understanding the training and support available for parents, as well as the steps involved in PECS implementation, parents can effectively support their child's communication development.

Training and Support for Parents

Parents play a vital role in the successful implementation of PECS. To ensure they have the necessary knowledge and skills, training and support are available to help parents navigate the process.

Training and Support

  • Parent Workshops
  • Online Courses
  • Individual Coaching

Parent workshops provide an opportunity to learn about PECS principles, strategies, and techniques in a group setting. These workshops often cover topics such as creating visual supports, implementing PECS in daily routines, and troubleshooting common challenges.

Online courses offer flexibility and convenience, allowing parents to access training materials at their own pace. Individual coaching provides personalized guidance and support from experts who can address specific concerns and help parents tailor PECS to their child's unique needs.

By participating in training and seeking support, parents can gain confidence in implementing PECS effectively and promoting their child's communication skills.

Steps in PECS Implementation

Implementing PECS involves a series of structured steps that gradually build upon each other. These steps are designed to facilitate the transition from using physical prompts to independent communication using pictures. Here is an overview of the typical steps involved in PECS implementation:

  1. Preparation: Gather a set of preferred items or activities that motivate your child. These items will serve as the initial communication targets.
  2. Physical Exchange: Teach your child to reach for and hand you a picture of the desired item or activity in exchange for immediate access to it.
  3. Distance and Persistence: Expand your child's understanding of PECS by increasing the distance between you and your child during the exchange. Encourage your child to persist in finding you to deliver the picture.
  4. Discrimination Training: Introduce multiple pictures to your child, each representing a different item or activity. Teach your child to select the appropriate picture based on their needs or desires.
  5. Sentence Structure: Progress from requesting single items to constructing simple sentences using sentence strips or sentence boards. This step allows your child to express more complex thoughts or preferences.
  6. Expanding Vocabulary: Introduce new pictures and expand the range of communication topics. Encourage your child to use PECS in various settings and with different communication partners.
  7. Generalization: Support your child in generalizing their communication skills by using PECS across different environments, with different people, and for a wide range of purposes.

While these steps provide a general framework, it's important to remember that each child progresses at their own pace. Adaptations and modifications may be necessary to meet the specific needs of your child.

By following these steps and receiving guidance from professionals, parents can effectively implement PECS and support their child's communication development. Remember, consistency, patience, and ongoing reinforcement are key to the success of PECS in promoting effective communication for children with autism.

Is PECS Right for Your Child?

When considering different communication strategies for children with autism, it's important to assess whether the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is the right fit for your child's individual needs. While PECS has shown positive outcomes for many children with autism, it's essential to consider various factors before implementing this approach.

Considering Individual Needs

Each child with autism is unique, with their own set of strengths, challenges, and communication abilities. Before deciding if PECS is suitable for your child, it's important to consider their specific needs and circumstances. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Communication Skills: Evaluate your child's current communication skills and determine if they would benefit from a visual-based communication system like PECS. If your child struggles with verbal communication or has difficulty expressing their needs and wants, PECS may be worth exploring.
  • Developmental Level: Consider your child's developmental level and cognitive abilities. PECS is most effective for children who have reached a certain level of cognitive understanding and are able to follow simple instructions.
  • Learning Style: Assess your child's learning style and preferences. Some children with autism may respond well to visual supports, while others may find them overwhelming or confusing. It's important to gauge your child's receptiveness to visual aids.
  • Support System: Consider the level of support available to your child. PECS requires consistent and ongoing support from parents, caregivers, and professionals to ensure successful implementation. Assess whether you have the resources, time, and commitment to provide the necessary support.

Consulting with Professionals

Consulting with professionals who specialize in autism and communication disorders is crucial when determining if PECS is suitable for your child. These professionals may include speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, or autism specialists. They can provide valuable insights and recommendations based on your child's individual needs. Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Seek Assessment: Schedule an assessment with a qualified professional to evaluate your child's communication abilities, strengths, and challenges. This assessment will help determine if PECS aligns with their specific needs.
  2. Professional Recommendations: Discuss the assessment results with the professionals involved in your child's care. They can provide guidance on whether PECS is a suitable communication strategy and offer alternative options if necessary.
  3. Collaborative Decision-Making: Engage in collaborative decision-making with professionals, considering their expertise and your knowledge of your child. Together, you can determine the most appropriate communication approach for your child.

Remember, every child is different, and what works for one child may not work for another. It's essential to carefully assess your child's individual needs and consult with professionals to make an informed decision about whether PECS is the right fit for your child's communication journey.


Is PECS Autism only for nonverbal children with autism?

PECS Autism can be used with any child who has difficulty with verbal communication. It is designed to provide an alternative method of communication that can supplement or even replace verbal communication.

How long does it take to see progress with PECS Autism?

The rate of progress will vary depending on the individual child and their specific needs. Some children may make rapid progress, while others may take longer. It is important to remember that consistency and patience are key when using PECS Autism.

Can PECS Autism be used in conjunction with other forms of therapy?

PECS Autism can be used alongside other forms of therapy, such as speech therapy or occupational therapy. In fact, using multiple forms of therapy together can often lead to better outcomes for the child.

What if my child doesn't seem interested in using pictures to communicate?

It is common for some children to initially resist using PECS Autism. However, with consistent and patient use, many children eventually come to appreciate the benefits of this form of communication. It may also be helpful to work with a trained therapist who can guide you through the process.

Can I create my own picture cards for my child?

Yes, you can create your own picture cards for your child using photographs or clipart. However, it is important to ensure that the pictures are clear and easy for your child to understand. You may also want to consider working with a trained therapist who can help you create appropriate picture cards tailored to your child's specific needs.

By addressing these frequently asked questions about Pecs Autism, parents and caregivers can have a better understanding of what it is and how it works.


PECS Autism is a powerful tool for children with autism. By using pictures to communicate, children with autism can express their needs and wants, become more independent, and reduce frustration and anxiety. If you are a parent or caregiver of a child with autism, consider exploring the many benefits of PECS Autism.