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Phases of Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) in Autism

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Research in Autism has narrowed three main domains of deficits observed in people with ASD that are verbal and non-verbal communication, social behaviour and repetitive, idiosyncratic behaviour. Communication plays a pivotal role in development of language, social skills and cognitive skills. A different approach is used in order to target communication deficits in autism. One of the evidence based approach used is Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) 

What is PECS?

Children with autism are more receptive to visual communication. PECS is an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) system that uses pictures to communicate in autism. Seeing it, rather than saying it, helps people process information and respond accordingly. The process of communication through PECS involves six phases. These phases are discussed below:

Phase 1:

How to Communicate

This phase primarily aims at exchanging single pictures of items or activities that the child wants.

Phase 2:

Distance and Persistence

The purpose of this phase is to use the same pictures at different situations and use them persistently. This helps them to generalize the use of different pictures of items and activities. 

Phase 3:

Picture Discrimination

At this phase, the child learns to discriminate between two or more pictures and learns to choose their favourite item or activity. A velcro board is commonly used at this phase.

Phase 4:

Sentence Structure

This is a more advanced phase for children with autism. As the name suggests, construction of simple sentences starting with “I want” is the primary focus of this phase

Phase 5:

Answering Questions

An important phase where a child with autism learns to answer questions regarding their needs and other requests, followed by the question, “What do you want?”

Phase 6:


Now 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.

Advantage of PECS:

  • Inexpensive
  • Anyone can use it. One does not need formal training to use PECS
  • Research based intervention
  • Availability of PECS resources online





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