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PECS and visual supports

Page history last edited by Regina Claypool-Frey 13 years, 6 months ago


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Printable version

Please choose an augmentative system based on learner characteristics and in consultation with trained consultants and professionals.


A prefacing note to a common confusion - it may be noted that PECS, aka, the Picture Exchange Communication System, is in a different section from the Visual Supports. The main reason for this is to highlight that even though both may rely on pictures, PECS vs. visual supports, such as visual schedules and related are NOT the same thing. 

PECS is an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) system intended for functional communication - and especially in the beginning to develop independent spontaneous manding. 

Visual Supports are used to provide additional prompting or supports for cuing a behavior, organizing a behavior chain or routine, as part of an activity schedule or similar. 

For example, a sequential pictoral mini schedule for handwashing would not be "PECS". Confusions or speaking at cross-purposes can sometimes arise by overgeneralized use of the term "PECS", when what is meant is a visual schedule, or a choice board, or job chart, etc. The information below further clarifies the distinctions.


PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System)



PECS Website

Pyramid Educational consultants website

Includes interview with Andrew Bondy and Lori Frost.


1.5. Is PECS compatible with Skinner's analysis of Verbal Behavior? 

Yes. PECS was developed with Skinner's analysis of the functional aspects of language incorporated into each Phase and transitions between the Phases. From Skinner's perspective, any modality (speech, sign, pictures, VOCAs, etc) are equally valid approaches to developing verbal behavior. For an in depth description of the relationship between PECS and Verbal Behavior, please read Chapter 15 in the PECS Training Manual: 2nd Edition.


Also under the "PECS Workshop FAQs", the question

"I've heard a lot of people talking about Verbal Behavior lately. I'd like to learn more about this topic and communication training in general."

is answered similarly.


A more professional-oriented presentation is,

Bondy, A., Tincani, M., & Frost, L. (2004). Multiply controlled verbal operants: An analysis and extension to the picture exchange communication system. The Behavior Analyst, 27(2), 247-261.

ABSTRACT:  This paper presents Skinner's (1957) analysis of verbal behavior as a framework for understanding language acquisition in children with autism. We describe Skinner's analysis of pure and impure verbal operants and illustrate how this analysis may be applied to the design of communication training programs. The picture exchange communication system (PECS) is a training program influenced by Skinner's framework. We describe the training sequence associated with PECS and illustrate how this sequence may establish multiply controlled verbal behavior in children with autism. We conclude with an examination of how Skinner's framework may apply to other communication modalities and training strategies.



"What is PECS?


Picture Exchange Communication System

Developed by: Andrew S. Bondy, Ph.D. & Lori Frost, M.S., CCC/SLP

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) was developed in 1985 as a unique augmentative/ alternative training package that teaches children and adults with autism and other communication deficits to initiate communication. First used at the Delaware Autistic Program, PECS has received worldwide recognition for focusing on the initiation component of communication. PECS does not require complex or expensive materials. It was created with educators, resident care providers and families in mind, and so it is readily used in a variety of settings.

PECS begins with teaching a student to exchange a picture of a desired item with a “teacher”, who immediately honors the request. The training protocol is based on B.F. Skinner’s book, Verbal Behavior so that functional verbal operants are systematically taught using prompting and reinforcement strategies that will lead to independent communication. Verbal prompts are not used, thus building immediate initiation and avoiding prompt dependency. The system goes on to teach discrimination of symbols and then how to put them all together in simple sentences. In the most advanced Phases, individuals are taught to comment and answer direct questions. Many preschoolers using PECS also begin developing speech...


PECS Phases (I-VI)and Shortcut Notes


Phase I Single exchange picture for item

Teaches students to initiate communication right from the start by exchanging a single picture for a highly desired item.

See also Shorthand notes Phase I


Phase II Seek out communicative partner

Teaches students to be persistent communicators- to actively seek out their pictures and to travel to someone to make a request.

Shorthand notes Phase II


Phase III Add discrimination

Teaches students to discriminate pictures and to select the picture that represents the item they want.

Shorthand notes Phase III


Phase IV Requesting using "I want

Teaches students to use sentence structure to make a request in the form of “I want _____.”

Shorthand notes Phase IV


Phase V Respond to "What do you want?

Teaches students to respond to the question “What do you want?”

Shorthand notes Phase V


Phase VI Commenting and use of attributes in requests

Teaches students to comment about things in their environment both spontaneously and in response to a question.

Shorthand notes Phase VI

Expanding Vocabulary

Teaches students to use attributes such as colors, shapes and sizes within their requests."


Full Article from Pyramid Associates



More on PECS

PECS online tutorial



Fitzgerald color system to systemize PECS



Sample PECS IEP objectives

This should be modified accordingly for a particular student's goals and current skill level.



Where to purchase a PECS manual and products

$ The Picture Exchange Communication System Training Manual

2nd Edition by Lori Frost, M.S., CCC/SLP and Andy Bondy, Ph.D., 2002, 396 pages. also at Different Roads to Learning




Free & commercial sources of icons and pictures


FREE Beyond Autism Pecs Pictures/Icons Pages

More info and DOZENS of icon pictures and photos of common items (see bottom of the page).


FREE pictureSET Database


FREE Medical sysmbol sets


FREE Printable Boardmaker Templates and

Writing with Symbols Activities From a Classroom

Cindy's autistic support

These were made using Boardmaker Version 5.0.10, then converted to PDF files.


$ Pyramid Educational Products, Inc.

The PECS website


$ Picture This & Visual Essentials


$ Therapy Resources

Parent-run company whose products include Flash! Pro2 CD-ROM with 10,000 printable common flashcard images.


$ and FREE Toy Pecs

Parent business of downloadable zip files of PECS icons for toys, groceries, and DVDs (DVD icons are free for now). 



Research Picture Exchange Communication Systems with Children with autism.


Charlop-Christy, M., Carpenter, M., Le, L., LeBlanc, L..A., & Kellet, K. (2002). Using the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) with children with autism: Assessment of PECS acquisition, speech, social-communicative behavior, and problem behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 35(3), 213-231.

ABSTRACTThe picture exchange communication system (PECS) is an augmentative communication system frequently used with children with autism (Bondy & Frost, 1994; Siegel, 2000;  Yamall, 2000). Despite its common clinical use, no well-controlled empirical investigations have been conducted to test the effectiveness of PECS. Using a multiple baseline design, the present study examined the acquisition of PECS with 3 children with autism.

In addition, the study examined the effects of PECS training on the emergence of speech in play and academic settings. Ancillary measures of social-communicative behaviors and problem behaviors were recorded.

Results indicated that all 3 children met the learning  criterion for PECS and showed concomitant increases in verbal speech. Ancillary gains  were associated with increases in social-communicative behaviors and decreases in problem behaviors. The results are discussed in terms of the provision of empirical support for PECS as well as the concomitant positive side effects of its use.


Ganz, J.B., & Simpson, R.L. (2004). Effects on communicative requesting and speech development of the Picture Exchange Communication System in children with characteristics of autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34, 395-409.

ABSTRACT Few studies on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems have addressed the potential for such systems to impact word utterances in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is an AAC system designed specifically to minimize difficulties with communication skills experienced by individuals with ASD. The current study examined the role of PECS in improving the number of words spoken, increasing the complexity and length of phrases, and decreasing the non-word vocalizations of three young children with ASD and developmental delays (DD) with related characteristics. Participants were taught Phases 1–4 of PECS (i.e., picture exchange, increased distance, picture discrimination, and sentence construction).

The results indicated that PECS was mastered rapidly by the participants and word utterances increased in number of words and complexity of grammar.


Tincani, M. (2004). Comparing the Picture Exchange Communication System and sign language training for children with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 19, 154-163. DOI: 10.1177/10883576040190030301

ABSTRACT:This study compared the effects of Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and sign language training on the acquisition of mands (requests for preferred items) of students with autism. The study also examined the differential effects of each modality on students' acquisition of vocal behavior. Participants were two elementary school students with autism enrolled in a suburban public school. Training sessions involved presentations of preferred items, prompting and prompt fading procedures. Probes were conducted to evaluate the generalization of learned mands to classroom teachers. For one participant, sign language training produced a higher percentage of independent mands. PECS training produced a higher percentage of independent mands for the other participant. For both participants, sign language training produced a higher percentage of vocalizations during training. Mands learned with the experimenter generalized to classroom teachers.

The results of the study suggest that acquisition of picture exchange and sign language may vary as a function of individual student characteristics, specifically, motor imitation skills prior to intervention. However, further research is needed to determine the optimal procedures for teaching both modalities to students with communication difficulties.


Tincani, M. , Crozier, S., Alazett, S.(2006). The Picture Exchange Communication System: Effects on manding and speech development for school-aged children with autism. Education & Training in Developmental Disabilities, 41, 177-184. 

ABSTRACT:We examined the effects of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS; Frost & Bondy, 2002) on the manding (requesting) and speech development of school-aged children with autism. In study 1, two participants, Damian and Bob, were taught PECS within a delayed multiple baseline design. Both participants demonstrated increased levels of manding after implementation of PECS. Only Damian demonstrated any measurable speech during study 1. His speech development occurred primarily during phase IV of PECS. Because of the correlation between Phase IV and increased speech for Damian, study 2 was conducted to establish a functional relationship between phase IV procedures and speech development for an additional participant. Carl received phase IV training procedures in two conditions, administered in an ABAB design. In condition A, no reinforcement was provided for vocalization; in condition B, reinforcement was provided for vocalization after a delay of 3- to 5-s. The vocal reinforcement procedures in phase B differentially increased Carl's level of speech. Results are discussed in terms of research on augmentative and alternative communication and speech development for children with autism.



Visual Supports


Where To Begin With Visual Supports

Visual Supports



Visual Schedule Systems

Visual Schedules and Choice Boards: Avoid Misinterpretation of their Primary Functions

Describes the rationale of use of both, AND describes how NEITHER are Augmentative/Alternative Communication Systems.


**NEW** 3/4/10 - Tips and Ideas for Making Visuals to Support Young Children

The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning

Vanderbilt University

  • Why Use Visual Strategies
  • Picture Tips
  • Choice Charts
  • How to Make a Visual Schedule
  • How to Make a First/Then Board
  • Other Creative Ideas for Use of Visual Strategies
    • - Routine Activity Sequences
    • - Cue Cards
    • - Activity Analysis Using Clip Art
    • - Turn-Taking Charts
    • - Reminder Chart
    • - Stop Signs
    • - Feeling Charts
    • - Other Possible Ideas
    • --Job Charts, Toy/Activity Self Labels, People Locators



Visual Schedules


Why Use a Visual Schedule? (pdf)


Visual Schedules

From iCAN (Interactive Collaborative Autism Network)

DOEs of CT, MN and University of Kansas

Intro, lecture, Quiz, FAQ. Many other modules and info at the iCAN website


Visual Schedules and Mini-Picture Communication Boards

Note: This site is a little difficult to navigate


Daily Schedules



Student schedules examples



Choice Boards

Choice boards & menus

Communicating No



Other visual supports and organizers

People locators


Visually Cued Instruction

Nola Marriner, Talk, Learn & Communicate, Inc.


Graphic organizer/Writing Templates

From Seeit, Say it, Write it


Organization charts



Books and manuals


$ Activity Schedules for Children with Autism: Teaching Independent Behavior

Woodbine House

Lynn E. McClannahan, Ph.D., & Patricia J. Krantz, Ph.D.



$ Visual Supports for People with Autism:A Guide for Parents and Professionals

Woodbine House

Marlene J. Cohen, Ed.D., BCBA, Donna L. Sloan, MA, BCBA



$ Visual Strategies for Improving Communication: Practical Support for School and Home

by Linda Hodgdon (1995)






BBB AUTISM SUPPORT NETWORK. (Date unknown). Visual supports: Helping your child understand and communicate.


Bopp K.D., Brown KE, Mirenda P. (2004). Speech-language pathologists’ roles in the delivery of positive behavior support for individuals with developmental disabilities. Am J Speech Lang Pathol, 13(1), pp. 5-19.


Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. (Date unknown). Visual supports. Gainseville, FL: Center for Autism and Related Disabilities


Cooperative Education Service Agency 7. (Date unknown). Visual schedules. Green Bay, WI: Cooperative Education Service Agency 7.


Cooperative Education Service Agency 7. (Date unknown). “Low“ tech strategies. Green Bay, WI: Cooperative Education Service Agency 7.


$ Dyrbjerg P. and Vedel M. (2007). Everyday education: visual support for children with autism. London: Jessica Kingsley.


Hodgdon L. (2006). 25 reasons to use visual strategies. Autism Asperger’s Digest, May – June, pp. 22-24.


$ Hodgdon L. (2005). What are visual strategies? tools for overcoming communication challenges. Troy: MI: Quirk Roberts Publishing.


$ Hodgon, L. (1995). Visual strategies for improving communication. Troy, MI: Quirk Roberts Publishing.


$ Hodgon, L. (1999). Solving behavior problems in autism: Improving communication with visual strategies. Troy, MI: Quirk Roberts Publishing.


Kamp, L and McErlean, T. (2000). Visual schedule systems. Vancouver, B.C: SET-BC Learning Centre.


Millar DC, Light JC, Schlosser RW. (2006). The impact of augmentative and alternative communication intervention on the speech production of individuals with developmental disabilities: a research review. J Speech Lang Hear Res, 49, 248-264.


Kimball, J.W., et al. (2003). Lights, camera, action! Using engaging computer-cued activity schedules. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 36(1), pp. 40-45. Read Abstract


Prosser J.; Loxley A. (2007). Enhancing the contribution of visual methods to inclusive education. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs,7,55-68.


Quill, K.A. (1995). Visually cued instruction for children with autism and pervasive developmental disorders. Focus on Autistic Behavior, 10, 10-20.


Rankin, M. (2005). Across-task schedule. Visalia, CA: Tulare County/District Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA).


Rankin, M. (2005). Within-task schedule. Visalia, CA: Tulare County/District Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA).


Rao S. R.; Gagie B. (2006). Learning through seeing and doing: visual supports for children with autism.Teaching Exceptional Children, 38(6), pp. 26-33.


Zimbelman, M., et al. 2006. Addressing physical inactivity among developmentally disabled students through visual schedules and social stories Res.Dev.Disabil.






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