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PECS Cards: Benefits for Children with Autism

December 6, 2021


Parents of autistic children, from my personal experience, are some of the most adventurous and creative people in the world. One reason for that is they parent some of the most gifted and unpredictable people in the world.  

PECS Cards: Benefits for Children with Autism https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/picture-exchange-communication-benefits

Between the exploration of their children’s special interests, braving new professionals in their life, alternative therapies, and exercising patience through the meltdowns that their children on the spectrum sometimes experience, they are ready for anything!

Preparing their little ones to also be ready to take on the world is a complex and unique undertaking. Creative approaches for aiding communication, such as the use of PECS cards,  often prove effective when supporting children on the spectrum. 

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The Benefits of Visual Supports for Autism

Looking for new ways to help children learn is a constant process and it is greatly appreciated when the response to a system is positive. The joy of seeing someone succeed after a struggle is so rewarding.

Today I will discuss the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) as a creative approach for supporting children with autism.

What is PECS?

PECS was developed by Andy Bondy, PhD, and Lori Frost, MS, CCC-SLP. It utilizes picture cards to provide people who may have certain limitations achieve more functional communication. It is an easy way to identify objects, construct simple sentences, and promote learning and communication.

What are the phases of PECS?

The six phases of PECS begin with finding something the student is interested in, and using it to motivate them as they move through the different phases.

Phase 1

A picture is created of the child’s most cherished object. The card is given to the child. When they return the picture card to the person teaching them the picture gets exchanged for the object it represents. A book is created with the pictures used to exchange.

Phase 2

The second phase involves adding distance between the child, instructor, and book of pictures. This increases the likelihood that the child will learn that a little effort on their part is rewarded, helping to encourage more persistent communicators.

Phase 3

In phase three, the student must choose between two picture cards to exchange. In this phase they will also learn how to decide between two valuable things to receive. The most important picture will earn them the reward.

Phase 4

The fourth phase becomes an opportunity to use skills mastered in the previous phases. This phase is where the learner begins to put two or more pictures together to form phrases. Pictures are arranged on a detachable sentence strip beginning with the picture meaning “I want”. Then they can add the next picture on the strip to finish stating their request.

Phase 5

The fifth phase continues to build the child’s ability to spontaneously request items using the pictures. The time is extended between prompts to give the student time to respond on their own. When they do, they are rewarded with their requested outcome.

Phase 6

The final phase teaches the student to answer questions using the pictures they put together themselves. This allows them to interact in new ways, broadening their ability to get their thoughts, desires, needs, and observations across to their instructors, family, and friends. 

How could PECS cards help a child with autism?

Andy Bondy, PhD, and Lori Frost, MS, CCC-SLP developed this system specifically for people with autism. This system is based on applied behavior analysis (ABA Therapy). 

It aims to improve the communications skills of people on the autism spectrum and promotes their ability to initiate communication. Studies have shown PECS to aid in verbal development, which could improve verbal behavior. 


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Many children with autism struggle with verbal communication. This system can give them a less intimidating means of communicating. Speech therapists and other professionals use this system, as it has proven effective for many years.

Will it work for your child?

As a parent of special needs kids, one of the most heartbreaking realities is watching your child struggle to unlock their full potential. This, through no fault of their own, robs the world of being able to see the magnitude of their greatness.

Imagine having an alternative communication system to teach children who have challenges like selective mutism, for example, how to initiate conversations. In time, when experiencing the relief and delight that comes as the anxiety fades, their confidence is boosted, and others are able to hear their beautiful voice clearly.

The question of whether or not Picture Exchange Communication System cards can help your child communicate better, alleviate anxiety over speech delays, or simply learn a new skill, is an intriguing one. You know your child better than anyone.

Does your child struggle with verbal communication? Would their anxiety be diminished with a different form of communication? Would their vocabulary be developed with more visual representation? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then this approach may be able to make a difference for your child.

References: 

Flippin, M., Reszka, S., & Watson, L. R. (2010). Effectiveness of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) on communication and speech for children with autism spectrum disorders: a meta-analysis. American journal of speech-language pathology, 19(2), 178–195. https://doi.org/10.1044/1058-0360(2010/09-0022)

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