PECS Autism Communication Cards for Children with ASD


This article with give you a complete overview of how Communication Cards are used to facilitate Learning and Development of kids with Autism. After reading this article, you will have a solid understanding of the PECS autism framework.

Difficulty in developing and using verbal speech for communication is a common symptom of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The Picture Exchange Communication System ( or commonly known as PECS) is a structured framework that facilitates communication across multiple environments for ASD-affected children and youth, primarily the non-verbal ones. This way, they communicate with teachers, parents, and peers. In this module, we will talk about the most commonly used PECS autism strategies that can set you up for success!

A Background of Autism PECS

PECS was initially developed at the Delaware Autistic Program in 1994. As an alternative communication system, it has been demonstrated and widely adopted since. Research literatures have accounts of PECS to promote speech development and productivity. Now it is an updated version of the original procedures that’s used. This post will define PECS communication pictures and outline the steps for an effective implementation. It will also provide specific examples of usage across various settings and age groups.

Note: The strategies require trained, professional supervision while implementing PECS across a wide range of age groups. It can start during preschool and can be used lifelong for ASD-affected individuals to communicate efficiently.

What is PECS?

PECS is a method that uses communication pictures and should not be confused with how PECS is taught and used (e.g., behavioral principles). PECS belongs to the category of augmentative and alternative communication or AAC systems. It is considered an aided technique and is included in a larger grouping of systems and methods. These are meant to help individuals who are unable to communicate with others due to a deficit of typical verbal skills.

Sign language and picture boards are examples of commonly used AAC systems. PECS deals in enabling autistic individuals (particularly the non verbal types) to initiate communicative exchanges and interactions within social contexts. The developers of PECS claim that it is a behavior-based intervention process. It teaches the learner to use visual-graphic symbols for communication. PECS has now been formally accepted as an intervention strategy for Applied Behavior Analysis.

PECS teaches the learners to hand a picture/graphic symbol of a desired item to a communicative partner in exchange for the actual item.

The 6 Phases of PECS Autism Framework

PECS has six phases of instruction, each budding from the previous instruction. Include the following:

  • Teaching the physically assisted exchange
  • Expanding spontaneity
  • Simultaneous discrimination of pictures
  • Building sentence structure
  • Responding to “What do you want?”
  • Commenting (initially in response to a question and later spontaneously)

Other graphic autism picture systems of communication are different from PECS autism framework. In Picture Exchange Communication Systems, the individual physically hands a symbol depicting a desired item to the communicative partner. Learners come to understand that PECS can be used to make requests and demands. This can be extended to other communicative functions (e.g., labeling, questioning) and to other contexts (e.g., home, community).

Why use PECS Cards as Communication Pictures?

Impairment of communication skills is a core characteristics of autism spectrum disorders and typically developing children use words differently than children and youth with different spectrum conditions (Read: Types of Autism). Some of them either don’t or use limited eye contact, vocalizations and gestures for communication purposes.

Instead, to gain attention from others, autistic individuals sometimes learn and use means, mostly inappropriate, to obtain their desired object and outcomes.

For children with underdeveloped verbal and nonverbal communication skills, learning to express wants and needs is a challenging affair. Early intervention is critical to help autistic children and youth for developing communication skills. Using PECS pictures is a well-established and supported practice and gives better results when started as early as possible.

Any delay in the development of these skills can prove frustrating for both the child and the caregiver, many times leading to behavioral challenges. Highly effective tools like autism PECS are helpful in decreasing challenging behaviors, thus enhancing the use of appropriate functional communication.

WHO can use PECS Cards and WHERE?

Any professional, parent, or caregiver may use PECS procedures. However, professional training is recommended beforehand and it is available from the developers and marketers of the PECS system. For professionals who want to get certified, the training is provided through Pyramid Educational Consultants, Inc. and more information is available from

The information in this module is intended to provide a detailed overview of a successful implementation of PECS and supplemental training for parents and paraprofessionals who would like to operate within varied educational and community-based settings.

Implementation of PECS can occur anywhere communication is desired or needed. It is valid across a variety of settings, including home, school and community.

For What Age Group would PECS give Optimum Results?

According to researches, PECS is most effective with preschool and elementary children. More information about the evidence base for PECS is to be found in the Resources section reference list.

Note: Most of the researches with PECS were done on younger children, but evidences show that it also works with mid-school students. Additional researches on the subject support the effectiveness of PECS with adult learners.

Assessments Before Using PECS as Autism Communication Pictures

Deciding on using PECS is possible only after the completion of certain assessments like formal I.Q tests and adaptive behavior/functioning tests. The latter includes assessing social interaction and communication skills. However, conducting three additional assessments is important.

This includes completing a checklist first that will determine a student’s communication skills as of date. Knowing a student’s current ways of making requests (e.g. visual, oral) helps to determine the directions required to complete tasks and the student’s transitions between activities.

Such information (e.g., requesting, initiating interactions) is helpful to teachers in determining specific skills to target the PECS autism training. Simulated with verbal cues, like prompts, the information can be used to facilitate communicative exchanges.

Secondly, a current state assessment is required for the cognitive skills displayed by the student. It is important to understand how the child functions in these 3 areas of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:

pecs autism theory of ming

Autism PECS Executive function

pecs autism communication cards

Finally, a reinforcer sampling (an informal inventory of items and activities that are of particular interest to the learner) should be conducted in addition to the communication assessment. There are multiple options to complete reinforcer sampling; however, with children and youth exhibiting limited communication skills, the following steps are suggested:

  • Compiling a selection of items or activities proving favorable to the individual. The caregivers can identify these items; they just need to ask and observe an individual about them. These items can range from edibles (like lollies, ice-cream, etc) to preferred classroom activities.
  • Presenting the learner with pairs of choices. Be sure to match each item at least once with other sampled items to determine relative preference. Left and right presentation must be varied throughout; this will minimize the effects of single-sided preference on the part of the learner.
  • Documenting the most-chosen items to which the learner produces a notable response through acceptance or rejection. This informal assessment helps creating a selection of favorite items to be used during the creation of PECS autism training. The reinforcing items increase a student’s motivation and promote acquisition of effective communication skills.

Implementing PECS Cards to Enhance Communication with Autism

Things to Keep in mind before starting the pecs autism communication pictures:

  • Communication Pictures or symbol cards are created after identifying and gathering an adequate number of desired reinforcers.
  • The number of reinforcers and picture cards vary for each individual. The goal here is keeping a learner engaged and motivated by providing him/her enough choices. Use simple drawings or pictures taken with a digital camera depending on the skills of the individual. Alternatively refer to out Autism PECS Blueprint for ready made 500+ autism picture PECS

Prior to the beginning of PECS instruction, other factors are also needed to be addressed, like:

  • Training Environment: PECS must utilize it across all natural environments. The early phases of teaching with PECS pictures require the setting to be structured and consistent. As the student’s proficiency increases at using PECS, the learning environment gets more relaxed to promote generalization of skills.
  • Teachers/Adults: Initially, two adults are involved in training – the helper and the communicative partner, who trade roles throughout PECS.
  • Autism PECS should be used across all natural settings. This assists in creating a functional communication system. Children and youth with ASD can use it to communicate with several communication partners, including same-age peers.

Using Communication Pictures (or Autism PECS Cards)

The early phases of instruction use only a few pictures or symbols. A designated communication book is important; it should comprise commonly used pictures and/or symbols, which should be organized by theme, making it as functional as possible. Books are organized by vocabulary categories such as food, toys, places and people or by the daily activities like snack time, library time and play time. Pages can be added as needed.

A second copy of the book with extra pictures or symbols is introduced as the learner begins to use PECS across settings and with varying communication partners. This should be created for use in the home setting. Instead of going the way of storing everything digitally and printing them as required, use PECS autism pictures that feature an array of images. Choose and present them to the communication partner.

Monitoring Individual Student Progress

The methods described throughout this module can be used to monitor a student’s progress in all of the phases. These will be discussed later. Accessing existing progress monitoring forms and checklists shall require purchasing the Picture Exchange Communication System Training Manual from

PECS training begins once the key players (learner, helper and partner), have identified and developed the reinforcers and initial materials. The six instructional phases are outlined next.

Each phase of the training process needs monitoring individual student progress. It is essential to do so as it helps teachers and other professionals to make informed decisions (for fading prompts, to move on to the next phase etc.). The developers of PECS have recommended multiple, day-long communication training opportunities, with training continuing within each phase till the child reaches 80% or greater proficiency that he/she exhibits for a minimum of three days. Then it’s time to move on to the next phase.

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