Picture Exchange Communication System

*Every person learns differently, so what works for one person, may not work for another. PECS is one option for someone who has limited or no communication skills. This post is for information purposes. There are other communication strategies available, so always seek professional advice from an educational provider/a speech therapist to know what works best.


I thought I’d share my experience with using a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) I am not a professional or speech therapist, but, would like to explain what my understanding is of PECS. (personal view)

PECS are used for people who have communication challenges and difficulty with social communication. There are six phases, and I have received previous training (as a learning support assistant) on phase one to phase four.

In this post, I will be discussing phase 1 and 2:

Phase 1

Phase 1 starts off with the person learning through modelling, meaning an adult showing them how to do a picture exchange. This phase is more adult initiated to start off with. You encourage the picture exchange by prompting, such as tapping the picture and the palm of your hand. You are looking for a single exchange at this stage.

The person, once confident, will then be able to pick up a picture and place it into your hand in exchange for something that motivates them. This could be bubbles, a fidget toy or another motivating item or activity. The item/activity is always placed in sight.

Phase 2

During this phase, you want to create distance and persistence. The idea is to allow the person to gain the confidence to go to another trusted adult to complete a picture exchange.

I know that every school operates differently but say if you are a 1:1/ learning support assistant, then you would encourage the child/young person to complete a few exchanges with the class teacher or a teaching assistant.

If a speech and language therapist attend the school for your child/young person, then I would say that it would be beneficial for the parent/s to come to the session or be present afterwards for their feedback and recommendations. (that is my opinion). It’s best to see what the school suggest as every school operates differently.

You want to encourage communication in many different environments as possible, so if the parents receive the same training as the teacher, then they can use PECS at home. This also ensures that the person is having consistent use of the PECS.

With regards to distance, the aim is for you to slowly step away from the pictures, creating distance between you and the person. You want to be able to complete picture exchanges indoors and outdoors, exploring different environments.

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