School finishes on Friday 12th July at 2.30pm. The Autumn term starts on Tuesday 27th August. There are lots of activity ideas for families to do over the summer break on our Summer Newsletter. In addition, see our Curriculum section for lots of fun ideas to keep children learning at home over the summer.
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Oaklands School

Building Foundations for Fulfilling Futures

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Oaklands School

Building Foundations for Fulfilling Futures


Picture Exchange Communication System


What Is PECS?


  • The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is an approach for children and adults who cannot communicate effectively with speech

  • PECS is a communication aid for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and it has been used with a wide variety of learners, from preschool children to adults who have various communicative, cognitive, and physical impairments

  • It has been and continues to be implemented in a variety of settings and contexts (home, school, community) so users have the skills to communicate their wants and needs.

  • PECS has been shown to increase communication skills for individuals with ASD

    National Autism Centre (2009)



Why Do We Use PECS?

Typically developing children learn to communicate from birth. For example, infants are born showing a preference for their mothers’ voice.

Intentional Communication- by six months of age, babies make sounds that are more and more like the sounds in their native language. By six to nine months of age, babies begin to ‘communicate’ with others in order to request and comment. By 12-19 months, baby usually engages in an average of 96 interactive episodes per hour- more than half initiated by the child touching, babbling, and offering (Hart and Risley, 1999)


Autistic children are not usually responsive to social reinforcement, for example,  Mum speaking in an excited voice when baby makes a new sound, so we wouldn’t expect that their language would develop typically. They need many more repetitions and interactions than their non-autistic peers to develop reciprocal communication and may need to be taught the purpose of this through a structured system such as PECS.


To support our pupils, we need to actively teach language and communication skills. PECS has a functional objective which is to develop independence through using a system of picture cards/words to communicate


How Does PECS Work?

  • We teach using visual systems (objects, real-life pictures and symbols) to support children’s understanding of our language and to help them respond.

  • We teach children to use PECS across the curriculum and throughout the school day for many of our pupils

  • The PECS process works up from simple requests to complex sentences

  • It was created by Dr Andrew Bondy, offering an approach that can be used at home or school (The Pyramid Approach*)

  • It is often used alongside the TEACCH approach

  • The goal is functional, useful communication


*Use of alternative and augmentative communication systems will not inhibit speech development. “Improved oral speech often occurs with PECS”

Example of Stage 1 PECs

Still image for this video

The Six Phases of PECS


Phase One- The Physical Exchange

Objective: Upon seeing a "highly preferred" item, the child will pick up a picture of the item, reach toward the trainer, and release the picture into the trainer's hand.


Phase Two- Expanding Spontaneity

Objective: The child goes to his/her communication board, pulls the picture off, goes to the adult, and releases the picture into the adult's hand.


Phase Three- Picture Discrimination

Objective: The child will request desired items by going to a communication board, selecting the appropriate picture from an array, going to a communication partner and giving the picture.


Phase Four- Sentence Structure

Objective: The child requests present and non-present items using a multi word phrase by going to the book, picking up a picture of "I want," putting it on a sentence strip, picking out the picture of what is wanted, putting it on the sentence strip, removing the strip from the communication board, approaching the communicative partner, and giving the sentence strip to him/her.


Phase Five- Responding to "What do you want?"

Objective: The child can spontaneously request a variety of items and can answer the question, "What do you want?"


Phase Six- Responsive and Spontaneous Commenting

Objective: The child appropriately answers "What do you want?" "What do you see?" "What do you have?" and similar questions.

1. What do you see?

2. What do you see? vs. What do you want?

3. What do you have?

4. What do you see? vs. What do you want? vs. What do you have?

5. Additional questions

6. Spontaneous requesting


Further Support with PECS: There is further information about how to get started with PECS in the Parent section of our website. Alternatively, if you would like support, please speak to your child’s class teacher or Vicky Bland, Assistant Head Teacher.


See also: