Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Picture Exchange Communication (PECS) for Children with Autism

01/27/2016 | Published by: Loretta Castro

My daughter used to have meltdowns and severe behaviors because she could not communicate. Her world seemed out of sorts for her at times. The Picture Exchange Communication (PECS)  system was very beneficial to her. The visual schedule helped her understand what was going on and what was happening next. And she learned to communicate using the PECS system.

The PECS system (pronounced “pex”) helps children and adults communicate with pictures instead of words. Training to use the PECS system and how to communicate using the pictures and the cards can be done by a parent, caregiver, or therapist. Many schools are using this form of communication to teach children with autism and other communication-related disabilities. The special education department can help you learn how to use the PECS system in your home. 

In our case, the school helped us out on several occasions in our home and in the community. I made cards, with pictures attached that I carried around with me on a round ring. I used them in many situations and outings. I showed my daughter the pictures of the thing that I wanted her to do. She used the PECS system to communicate with me as well. For example, she would take the card holder from me and find the card that showed someone drinking, and that would let me know that she was thirsty. If she was hungry, she could show me the card that displayed a person eating. You can make cards for whatever you need in order to communicate with each other. When we were introduced to the system it made a big difference in our lives.

The Six Phases of the Picture Exchange Communication System:

  • PECS PHASE I: How to communicate

The child with autism learns to exchange single pictures for items or activities they want.

  • PECS PHASE II: Distance and Persistence

Still using single pictures, the child with autism learns 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.

  • PECS PHASE III: Picture Discrimination

The child with autism learns 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.

  • PECS PHASE IV: Sentence Structure

The child with autism learns to construct simple sentences on a detachable sentence strip using an "I want" picture followed by a picture of the item being requested.

  • PECS PHASE V: Answering Questions

The child with autism learns to use PECS to answer the question, "What do you want?"

  • PECS PHASE VI: Commenting

Finally, the child with autism is 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.


Listed below are a few resources that can help you make some PECS cards for your child. You should also contact the special education department at your child’s school to help you in making some of the cards. They may help you laminate some of them as well. 

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