Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

Description: Based upon the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA), PECS is a methodology that uses pictures and other symbols to develop a functional communication system for individuals with autism. In the early stages of training, PECS teaches students to exchange a picture of a desired item for the actual item. Next steps in training include teaching expansion of vocabulary, including attributes (e.g., “big”, “red”) and commenting (e.g., “I like swinging”).

Research Summary: Studies show that PECS is effective in teaching communication skills that involve single words or short phrases, and that these communication skills may generalize to everyday settings. Ongoing consultation from an expert in PECS is likely to improve outcomes for children with autism spectrum disorders who receive this intervention (Howlin et al., 2007).

Recommendations: PECS is an appropriate intervention for teaching functional communication skills to children with autism spectrum disorders who have limited or no communication skills, or have difficulty initiating or expanding vocabulary. To increase the utility of this intervention, an important area for future research is to investigate PECS procedures for promoting initiation of communication and acquisition of complex, flexible language.

Selected References:

Selected scientific studies:

Chaabane, D., Alber-Morgan, S., & DeBar, R. (2009). The effects of parent-implemented PECS training on improvisation of mands by children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 42, 671-677.

Charlop-Christy, M.H., Carpenter, M, Le, L., LeBlanc, L, & Kelley, K. (2002). Using the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) with children with autism: Assessment of PECS acquisition, speech, social-communicative behavior, and problem behaviors. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 35, 213-231.

Howlin, P., Gordon, R. K., Pasco, G., Wade, G., & Charman, T. (2007). Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 48, 473-481.

Yoder, P., & Stone, W. L. (2006). Randomized comparison of two communication interventions for preschoolers with autism. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 426-435.

Systematic reviews of scientific studies:

Flippin, M., Reszka, S., & Watson, L. R. (2010). Effectiveness of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) on communication and speech for children with autism spectrum disorders: A meta-analysis. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 19,179-185.

Sulzer-Azaroff, B., Hoffman, A. O., Horton, C. B., Bondy, A., & Frost, L.(2009). The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS): What do the data say? Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disorders.

Tien, K. C. (2008). Effectiveness of the Picture Exchange Communication System as a functional communication intervention for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A practice-based research synthesis. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, 43, 61-76.

Tincani, M., & Devis, K. (2010). Quantitative synthesis and component analysis of single-participant studies on the Picture Exchange Communication System. Remediation and Special Education (Online First), 1-13.

For additional information:

Bondy, A., & Frost, L. (2001). The Picture Exchange Communication System. Behavior Modification, 25, 725-744.