1. Autism
  2. Therapies Guide
  3. Therapy-based

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

At a glance: Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
Type of therapy
The claim
Improves expressive and social communication
Suitable for
People with communication difficulties, including people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Research rating
Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.
Some research shows positive effects, more research needed.
Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration
Because it is a method of communication, this therapy involves daily use.
Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week
Initial cost of PECS training is high ($330). Ongoing costs are low.

What is the Picture Exchange Communication System?

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a way for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to communicate without relying on speech. To communicate, people use cards with pictures, symbols, words or photographs that represent tasks, actions or objects.

Who is the Picture Exchange Communication System for?

Anyone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can use the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). There’s no age limit, but research has focused on children. This therapy is also suitable for anyone who has a problem with spoken language, including people with developmental delay and traumatic brain injury.

What is the Picture Exchange Communication System used for?

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) gives people without spoken language or with limited spoken language skills an alternative way to communicate. PECS can also increase people’s communication skills – for example, people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can learn to use the cards to ask for what they need, make comments and answer other people’s questions.

Where does the Picture Exchange Communication System come from?

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) was developed in the United States in 1985, as part of the Delaware Autism Program. It’s based on the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA).

What is the idea behind the Picture Exchange Communication System?

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is based on the idea that learning happens because of the consequences of a particular behaviour and the events that lead up to it. If a behaviour leads to something people want, the behaviour will keep happening. If the behaviour doesn’t result in what people want, it’s unlikely to happen again.

In PECS, when children appropriate cards, they’re rewarded with the desired objects or actions. Supporters of PECS say that this reinforces children’s behaviour. In turn, it increases the likelihood that children will keep using the cards for communicating needs and desires.

What does the Picture Exchange Communication System involve?

Because it’s a method of communication, PECS is taught and used on a daily basis.

To begin with, a child’s preferences for things like food and toys are identified. The child is then taught to exchange pictures of these items for the actual items.

Later on, the child can use the cards to make requests, to ask and answer questions, or to do more advanced tasks like making comments. The child moves from exchanging single cards to learning to build short sentences using several cards at a time.

Cost considerations

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) training workshops are available through Pyramid Educational Consultants.

In 2016, the two-day PECS basic training workshop costs $660 for professionals and $400 for parents. The workshop fee includes a copy of the PECS Training Manual with Data Forms CD, which contains information to guide parents and practitioners implementing the system.

You can buy resources for creating PECS cards from Pyramid Educational Consultants. There are also some free resources online.

Some families are taught to use PECS in speech pathology sessions or at school by speech pathologists or teachers who have been trained in PECS.

Does the Picture Exchange Communication System work?

Research has shown positive effects from the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), but more high-quality studies are needed.

There have been some concerns that the use of PECs can stop speech from developing, but there’s no evidence that this is true.

Who practises the Picture Exchange Communication System?

Many speech pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, physiotherapists, social workers, parents and teachers have been trained in PECS. When you’re making an appointment with a new professional, you can ask whether the professional has experience with PECS.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

If you’re interested in using the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) with your child, it’s recommended that you do a two-day PECS basic workshop before beginning PECS. Even if you’re taking your child to a professional to learn PECS, you’re still encouraged to do the training so you can do PECS with your child at home.

After completing this training, you can often do PECS at home independently. You can get more training and support if you need it.

You can expand the PECS card library that you’re using as your child’s needs and interests develop.

Where can you find a PECS practitioner?

Pyramid Educational Consultants is the only organisation certified to train people in the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). To find a certified PECS practitioner or to find out about training for yourself, contact Pyramid Educational Consultants.

You could also talk about PECS with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child’s options.

Rate this article (88 ratings)

Tap the stars to rate this article.

Thanks for rating this article.

Last updated or reviewed

  • Tell us what you think
  • References

Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

Follow us

© 2006-2018 Raising Children Network (Australia) Ltd