PECS Communication

PECS Communication: 6 Phases of Development

Posted on
April 25, 2023
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PECS Communication is an alternate way of communication. Designed for people with communication disorders. Read along with our Speech Therapist on the 6 phases of development and the differences between AAC and PECS.

What is PECS Communication

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is an alternate way of communication that was originally designed for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). These individuals generally couldn’t communicate using words, so they used picture cards for communication instead.

What does PECS mean in communication?

PECS relies on picture cards for communication, in order for individuals with a variety of communication disorders. It allows these individuals to initiate their ideas and intention interactively through visuals.

The PECS program starts by having the child taught to make their request by handing a picture that represents an item that they want by an adult who is holding that object. Exchanging the picture for the item. PECS communication has six phases of development, and individuals master each phase and continue into the next phase at different rates!

whats is pecs communication
What is PECS Communication

What are the 6 phases of PECS?

There are 6 stages of development for PECS from initiating through picture exchange to verbalising responses!

The phases include the following:

  1. Individuals exchange pictures for things/objects that they want - this requires the caregiver to participate with them in this back and forth.
  2. Distance and Persistence: individuals start learning to use these pictures in different contexts - different places, people and across distances with greater persistence.
  3. Picture Discrimination: Individuals learn to select from two or more pictures to ask for things that are of interest to them. These are placed in a PECS Communication Book that is portable.
  4. Sentence Structure: Requesting using “I want” as the carrier phrase: Individuals learn to construct simple sentences on a sentence strip using an “I want” picture followed by a picture of the item being requested.
  5. Responsive Requesting: PECS now graduates to individuals responding to questions to “what do you want.”
  6. Commenting: Finally, individuals using PECS are responding to wh- questions related to their 5 senses. For example, they are asked the following questions:, “What do you see?”, “What do you hear?” and “What is it?” They start formulating sentences with the following carrier phrases: “I see”, “I hear”, “I feel”, “It is a”, etc.

Are PECS only for autism?

While originally developed for individuals who are nonverbal with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Pecs autism it has evolved into a tool for other individuals who are having difficulty communicating verbally. This includes individuals with a variety of cognitive, physical and communication challenges,

PECS has reached many people of all ages and challenges, including adults with cognitive impairment as well as a toddler with no cognitive impairments.

It is important to remember that individuals who use the PECS system need to be able to have the ability to understand and use language, have a level of mobility, and have sufficient fine motor skills needed to grasp the pictures. If any of these are compromised, it can get in the way of an individual being able to use them to support their communication skills.

What is the difference between AAC and PECS?

AAC (Alternative Assistive Communication)is just any alternative way of communicating other than speaking. Thai includes lower-tech devices such as PECS communication and more high-tech devices such as tech generating devices for communicating (ie.tablet apps).

PECS is one form of alternative/assistive communication dedicated to helping individuals who aren’t speaking learn how to communicate meaningfully; from using visuals to initiate  to formulating sentences to convey larger ideas.

PECS Communication references: 


User-Centered Design and Augmentative and Alternative Communication Apps for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders

Debbie Cohen
Speech and Language Therapist
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