PECS® (Picture Exchange Communication System®) is an evidence-based protocol with over 35 years of clinical validation. PECS has helped hundreds of thousands of learners around the world develop a functional communication system to effectively express their wants, needs, feelings, protests, concerns, and questions to those around them in an easily understood way so they can more fully participate in their families, educational or vocational settings, and communities.
Over the years, there have been critiques of PECS and those who use it. We’ve gathered some of the recent critiques and addressed them, to help clear up some misconceptions.
Misconception: PECS doesn’t allow a motor plan to develop as the icons are always moving place. Motor learning is crucial to successful use of picture communication systems.
In the PECS® protocol, the initial focus is on learning the meaning of the picture not the placement of the picture. Once learners can discriminate pictures and have the skill of scanning to find pictures, the pictures should have a specific spot in the communication book. Picture placements can change, discrimination skills remain.
Misconception: PECS protocols only focus on requesting. What about protesting? Making suggestions? Commenting on the environment?
Requesting is the first skill taught in PECS®, but the protocol’s final phase focuses on teaching commenting (e.g. I see, I hear, I feel, I smell). PECS is not about learners just getting their needs and wants met, but about communicating with other people in their world! Protesting/indicating no is honored from the beginning in PECS. If we offer something the learner doesn’t want, we honor that refusal, and reassess what is motivating the learner.
Misconception: PECS is more rigid in implementation than other methods which may hinder parents or other professionals from using the system if they don’t have the time/resources to receive training.
PECS® is an evidence-based protocol with over 240 publications supporting its effectiveness. We know that PECS is most effective when implemented with fidelity which does require training, practice, and feedback, like any clinically validated system. There is extensive research showing that parents and paraprofessionals can implement PECS as well as professionals! We offer reduced parent rates and additional funding resources are available on our website. PECS support is available year-round to parents and professionals in our PECS User Support Group on Facebook.
Misconception: PECS books are very cumbersome and the icons can be hard/time-consuming for the learner to locate.
The weight and size of most PECS® communication books is not heavier or larger than dedicated devices or smart tablets with an app. Research has consistently shown that many young learners have more difficulty operating an SGD than exchanging a single picture. If the number of pictures in a user’s PECS communication book begins to significantly slow down access, then consideration of transitioning to an SGD is warranted.
Misconception: I don’t know any adults who use PECS as their primary communication system, so why not start a child with a system they can use for life if needed?
There are adults who use PECS® as their primary system, adults who have transitioned to speech, and others have transitioned to SGDs. The majority of our young learners who use PECS start talking during Phase IV of the PECS protocol! These learners transition to communicating with speech and will not need to transition to SGDs. For learners who do not start speaking and for whom the vocabulary is growing, we transition to SGD or tablet with App.
Misconception: The method uses operant conditioning which is a big part of ABA. PECS is often implemented in ABA therapy/ABA based classrooms. Much of the autistic community does not support the use of ABA and associated methods.
A small portion of the autistic community has criticized ABA. Members of the autistic community who have experienced using PECS® directly have been very supportive of the strategy. Our orientation within the Pyramid Approach has always been on building skills based on the science of learning. Many of these skills are critical communication skills that replace challenging behaviors. We engage in conversations with learners, their families, and educational teams to prioritize which skills to teach.
Misconception: The implementation of PECS often involves hand-over-hand prompting of the students which violates bodily autonomy and is not necessary for learning picture communication.
When starting PECS, we carefully observe our learners and find out what motivates them. After a learner shows they want an item by reaching for it, we help them to exchange a picture of that item with another person. A prompt is a teaching strategy that helps learners perform skills. A prompt is never restrictive, limiting, or used to make someone do something. The initial prompt (typically physical guidance) in the PECS protocol is used only after the learner has demonstrated assent. If the learner protests, we stop and reassess what is motivating them. Our goal is for independent, autonomous communication, so we eliminate ALL prompts as quickly as possible.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Browse here on our website to learn more about PECS® and the Pyramid Approach to Education®
Explore the full list of over 240 publications and learn why PECS® is an evidence-based practice.
Examine the critiques of ABA by reading the blog, Keep Listening: Considerations for Evaluating ABA Critiques
Read about an autistic adult’s experience in her own words in the two-part blog, What Is It Really Like to Communicate with PECS?
Get inspired by testimonials from families and professionals whose lives have been improved by using PECS® and the Pyramid Approach on our Testimonials page.