Primarily used for individuals who are non-verbal, and who use speech with limited effectiveness to assist them in acquiring functional communication skills.
PECS was developed in as a unique augmentative/alternative communication intervention package for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and related developmental disabilities.
PECS begins by teaching an individual to give a picture of a desired item to a “communicative partner", who immediately honors the exchange as a request. The system goes on to teach discrimination of pictures and how to put them together in sentences. In the more advanced phases, individuals are taught to answer questions and to comment.
The PECS teaching protocol is based on B.F. Skinner’s book, Verbal Behavior, such that functional verbal operants are systematically taught using prompting and reinforcement strategies that will lead to independent communication. Verbal prompts are not used, thus building immediate initiation and avoiding prompt dependency.
PECS has been successful with individuals of all ages demonstrating a variety of communicative, cognitive and physical difficulties. Some learners using PECS also develop speech. Others may transition to a voice output system. The body of research supporting the effectiveness of PECS continues to expand, with research from countries around the world.
The Six Phases of PECS
How to Communicate
Students learn to exchange single pictures for items or activities they really want.
Distance and Persistence
Still using single pictures, students learn to generalize this new skill by using it in different places, with different people and across distances. They are also taught to be more persistent communicators.
Students learn to select from two or more pictures to ask for their favorite things. These are placed in a communication book—a ring binder with Velcro® strips where pictures are stored and easily removed for communication.
Students learn to construct simple sentences on a detachable sentence strip using an “I want” picture followed by a picture of the item being requested.
Attributes and Language Expansion
Students learn to expand their sentences by adding adjectives, verbs and prepositions.
Students learn to use PECS to answer the question, “What do you want?”.
Now students are taught to comment in response to questions such as, “What do you see?”, “What do you hear?” and “What is it?”. They learn to make up sentences starting with “I see”, “I hear”, “I feel”, “It is a”, etc.