The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), offers children a unique alternative to verbally based communication systems and is founded on applied behavior analysis and verbal behavior principles. It can be used in a variety of settings including the home, the classroom, and the community. According to the proponents of this system, it is more beneficial than other types of augmentative communication because natural reinforcers are used. There is no need to train prerequisite skills such as pointing or imitation, and natural use of communication is built into the program.
The goal of PECS is to teach children a form of communication that requires few prerequisite skills. PECS provides children with a functional form of communication that allows them to get needs met, make choices, engage with people socially, and form a sense of control over their environment. Research indicates that children using PECS typically also use spoken language after a period of time.
Children using PECS are taught to give a picture of a preferred item to a communicative partner in exchange for the item. The initial communicative behavior targeted is initiating a request and preferred items serve as reinforcers for communication. The communication is motivating for the child because they are receiving reinforcement for their choice. Requesting is an extremely useful skill and may facilitate the development of other communicative intents. Physical prompts fade quickly in order to ensure independent communication. Once a request with pictures is firmly established, the child is encouraged to verbalize the request. PECS is set up in a series of phases which include training of initiations, requesting, use of sentences, commenting, and complex use of communication.