The Picture Exchange Communication System, also known as PECS, is a form of alternative and augmentative communication in which a child is taught to communicate with an adult by giving them a card with a picture on it.

PECS is based on the idea that children who can’t talk or write can be taught to communicate using pictures.

The adult begins by teaching the child to exchange a picture of an item he wants. For example, if the child wants a drink, he will give a picture of ‘drink’ to the adult who will then give him a drink.

The adult will then teach the child progressively more difficult skills, such as using pictures to make whole sentences or to express preferences.

The Picture Exchange Communication System was originally designed to help non-verbal children with autism but it has also been used with adolescents and adults who have a wide range of communicative, cognitive and physical difficulties.

The Picture Exchange Communication System is a key element in many multi-component programmes and approaches – such as the SPELL approach and the TEACCH programme.

There is a significant amount of research evidence to suggest that PECS is generally positive, with considerable anecdotal evidence from parents and professionals regarding the effectiveness of PECS.

It is a straightforward and positive approach, cost effective and not overly time consuming to implement.

There is, however, much confusion regarding the correct use of PECS and it should only be implemented by appropriately trained individuals.

This information is reproduced with the kind permission of Research Autism. Research Autism is the only UK charity exclusively dedicated to research into interventions in autism. For further information please visit: