PECS stands for Picture Exchange Communication System. It is a augmentative method of communication for non-verbal individuals as well as individuals just learning to talk. It can also be used by individuals with speech issues. Most frustration in individuals that are unable to speak is due to a lack of communication. PECS provides an easy way for them to begin communicating.

PECS is learned in a progressive manner following six steps. It is best to teach them in order although your child is able to use the PECS method before learning all the steps. PECS is something that should be worked on multiple times every day. Once they start learning to do this on their own it should be expected the “ask” for something every day using their PECS book. Below will give a brief overview of all the steps.  Some children may need the phases broken down into smaller steps in order to learn them.

Phase 1

In phase one your child learns that giving the picture (or icon) gets you what you want. This is done with activities or items they really want.

  • Example using crackers-During snack time have a picture of the cracker they are having. Put the icon on the table in front of the child. Hold up one cracker. Once the child gives you the icon (even if you need to prompt them) immediately give them the cracker and comment something like “you want a cracker”. Do this until snack is done.
  • Example using a toy car-During play time have a picture of a toy car. Put the icon on the floor in front of the child. Hold up a toy car. Once the child gives you the icon (even if you need to prompt them) immediately give them the toy car and comment something like “you want to play with the car”. After 5 seconds take the car back and do it again. Do this until your child loses interest in the car.

Phase 2

In phase two your child learns to travel to give the icon. This is very important because when your child wants something chances are you will not be sitting right next to them. Your child should be able to travel into another room to give you the icon. Your child also should learn to travel to their PECS book.

  • Traveling to you-Practice using the same method as phase 1, but place the icon on the outside of the PECS book. Work on slowly increasing the distance between you and your child. Eventually you should work on getting into another room and your child comes to give you the icon. This is definitely easier with another person to help guide the child as needed.
  • Traveling to the book-Practice using the same method as phase 1, but place the icon on the outside of the PECS book.  Gradually work on moving the book further away from the child until they are going across the room to get it. The child should always have their PECS book with them, but it is not always realistic that the book is right by their side.

Phase 3

Your child now learns what the pictures mean. Some kids are able to learn general icons while others need an actual picture of what they are requesting. Your child will also learn to take the pictures out of their PECS book.

  • Discriminating pictures-Put an item your child wants and something they wouldn’t want on the cover of the book. Have the two items out. When they hand you the picture give them what they asked for. If they ask for the item you know they didn’t want give it to them anyway. You can then do it again prompting them to ask for the item they wanted.
  • Making a choice-After they are discriminating consistently, use two items they want. After they give you the icon allow them to take the item. If they reach for the item they didn’t give you the icon for, prompt them to the item they gave you the icon for.
  • Do not move on from this step until they are consistently requesting using the right icon.
  • As with phase 1 and 2 be sure to label what your child requested when giving it to them.

Phase 4

Your child will  now begin to request in a sentence. You will now add a sentence strip and an “I want” icon to your childs book. Your child will complete a sentence before requesting an item.

  • Finishing the strip-Put the I Want icon on the sentence strip. When your child is going to request something prompt them to put the icon on the sentence strip and have them give you the strip. Read the strip to them while pointing to each picture and then give them what they requested.
  • Creating the strip-When your child is going to request something, prompt them to put the I Want icon on the strip and then the item they are going to request. Your child then needs to give you the strip. Read the strip to them while pointing to each picture and then give them what they requested.
  • Pointing-Your child now begins pointing to each icon as you read and then you give them the item. If at any point while you are reading it they verbalize the sentence or part of the sentence give them the item they requested immediately and praise them.
  • Finishing the sentence-While you are reading the sentence, after you say I want, pause for a couple of seconds to see if your child will verbalize what they are requesting.
  • If your child is not verbalizing at all pause to see if they will do it, but do not make receiving the item contingent on them verbalizing.

Phase 5

The child responds to the question “What do you want?”

  • Have an item out and make it noticeable to the child, but do not make it completely obvious. Ask your child “what do you want?”. They should then use their book to request the item you are holding. Do this throughout the day as your child goes into the room they might request something.

Phase 6

Your child will begin expanding their sentence/requesting.

  • Add other pictures to your child’s book for the sentence strip. I feel, I need, I see, I have, it is a
  • Make sure there are pictures that can complete these sentences
  • Ask your child questions that would relate to the question-focus on 1 question at a time
  • Once they learn a couple questions randomly present the questions in rotation to ensure they are listening to the question.


If your child begins to verbalize while doing PECS training, honor verbal requests immediately and provide high praise. Do not expect them to also present the icon if they have said cookie. Many children continue to use PECS after they start verbalizing as it helps to facilitate their verbalizations. Do not make them stop using their book as it can limit verbalizations.

NEVER take your child’s communication book away from them. This would be the same as taping your child’s mouth to make them stop talking. If they are asking for items they cannot have it is a good time to work on learning to accept “no”.

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November 25, 2012 This post was written by Categories: Communication Information No comments yet

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