Monday, July 1, 2013

Picture Exchange Communication System- A Handout for Caregivers and Educators

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a program that supports functional communication while encouraging expressive and receptive speech and language skills.  Development for this system began in 1985, and it is based on B.F. Skinner's 1957 book, Verbal Behavior.  One sentence sums it up:  Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), teaches functional communication to clients of all ages.   Functional communication is demonstrating the ability to make one's needs known effortlessly, immediately, and efficiently.  This communication begins long before a child says his or her first words.  For both nonverbal children and clients with a limited expressive ability, speaking is challenging but gesturing is not, so functional communication for them may be pointing.  In Picture Exchange, a client is taught how to initiate communication by handing a picture to an adult.  This process may or may not involve speaking; regardless, Picture Exchange does not ignore speech, rather it promotes both speech and language development.  During Picture Exchange, communication partners are modeling language and providing opportunities to develop receptive comprehension by teaching clients to differentiate among picture choices. 

The process begins in the same manner regardless of age; however, older clients may move through training stages faster.  Caregivers are vital to the trainings as they will need to carry over the techniques at home and the extra set of hands are necessary through much of the process.  Caregivers can also provide some helpful suggestions with regards to tangible motivators that will encourage their child to participate.  Strong reinforcers are items that children will go to some effort to obtain and protest any attempts at removal.  Picture Exchange is taught in phases.  The goal for the first phase is to teach the client to initiate or start a communicative exchange by picking up a picture, reaching toward a partner, and releasing that picture into the partner's hand.  In phase two, we teach the client to gain someone's attention by bringing a picture or communication book to locate the communication partner in another room.  This phase can take a long time to achieve.  By phase three, we work on teaching the client to choose a picture amiss all pictures in his or her communication book.  In phase four, we work at the sentence level by teaching clients to construct and exchange a strip of paper with a sentence on it to make requests.  Phase five works on responding to a question while maintaining requesting.  Up until this point in PECS, the communication partner refrains from initiating interactions by sitting quietly.  During phase five, we are continuing to work on encouraging the client to initiate and continue making requests while occasionally responding to more questions posed by communication partners.  This helps expand communication turns in conversations to make conversations longer.  The final phase six works on helping the client learn to make spontaneous comments about the world around him or her.  The entire training period for PECS varies for each individual and is dependent on ability level and amount of practice time in both the clinical and home settings.

For more detailed information about this program and trainings in your area, visit

Disclosure:  I did not receive any compensation or credit for posting this review or sharing the link for Pyramid Educational Consultants.

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