ABA Tips for Parents-Picture Exchange Communication

Written by Alana George, BS Clinical Psychology, RBT Student Analyst

What is Picture Exchange Communication?

In early intervention services, Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS) is a functional form of communication taught and used by children with little to no communication abilities. PECS is taught to the child by approaching another person and giving them a picture of the desired item in exchange for that item. Children with autism or other developmental disorders can use PECS to communicate a request, a thought, or anything that can be functionally displayed or symbolized with a picture. When establishing PECS your child may use Velcro images in a binder booklet as their own communication log, always accessible to them (National Autism Research center, 2021).

Why is teaching PECS important?

Teaching your child picture exchange communication is significant for your child to develop early communication skills. Implementing PECS also allows your child to learn how to initiate communication with others. Providing the opportunity for your child to use their own form of functional communication increases their independence. The main purpose and intention of early intervention services are for your child to develop independence within daily living skills and functional communication skills. Using PECS is an effective way to increase and maintain these skills because it is easily accessible in the home, clinic, and school environment. Not only does PECS increase communication skills, but it also decreases maladaptive behaviors. Children with little to no communication abilities often express frustration in the event they cannot communicate their wants or needs. This frustration may result in the child exhibiting maladaptive behaviors (Kid Sense Child Development Corporation, 2021). By teaching your child their own form of communication they are given the opportunity to grow independence and socially.

How is PECS taught?

There are six phases of PECS in which the level of communication skills progresses with each phase. Every child will progress and achieve each phase at their own pace and ability. PECS is taught initially by introducing the pictures of 1-3 highly preferred items, which can include any of your child’s favorites. Common examples are favorite candy, most played with a toy, and activities they highly enjoy (tickles, jumping, bubbles). The child will be taught to request those items using the picture exchange methods. With consistency over time, the child will pair the picture with the item and develop the understanding to initiate the communication on their own. PECS is most effective when it is being generalized while teaching. This means all participants (technicians, parents, teachers, etc.)  involved in the child’s learning must consistently implement PECS in all environments. PECS is effective in developing functional communication skills, but also in some cases results in verbal communication develop as well. When using PECS it is important to always state what they are requesting: “Bubbles” and the child may develop verbal skills to echo “Bubbles”. The six phases of PECS are displayed and defined in the diagram provided:




Capella University (2020).

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