Making a Request Using the “Picture Exchange Communication System” (P.E.C.S.)

There are many forms of communication: verbalization, sign language, gestures, body language, voice inflection, and pictures.

When Noah and Judah were two and three years old, we employed every form of communication we could come up with. Observing how our sons process and learn about their environment help direct us. Our first mode of communication was utilizing pictures. Noah picked up on this quickly. It took Judah a little longer, although, if we used “real life” pictures instead of symbols or “cartoon” looking diagrams, he was able to relate the picture to life.

We started little by little, one word at a time. Most children have language bursts between the ages of eighteen months and two years old, if not earlier. With Noah and Judah, there were no language explosions –ever. And the process took -and is still taking- years. But that’s okay.

Here’s how we used the Picture Exchange Communication System to teach language and communication:

  • Find a highly preferred item or food. You can also use an activity your child is highly motivated to do. For Noah and Judah, the preferred food choice was Goldfish crackers or a sippy cup of milk. An activity of choice was to watch Veggetales or a Praise Baby DVD.
  • Take a picture that represents the preferred food or activity. We used pictures of their sippy cups, raisins, and Goldfish crackers. For their favorite activity, I took pictures of their favorite DVDs and our stroller (for going for walks), . Boardmaker is a software containing cartoon-like pictures representing specific objects or activities to download or copy. These pictures were difficult for my sons to understand because they don’t look like the actual objects belonging to them. So, in the beginning, we used laminated pictures I took with my camera.
  • Place the laminated pictures somewhere in your child’s sight. When your child wants to make a request, show him the picture and have him give it to you. We glued magnets to the back of our pictures and placed them on the fridge.
  • Next help put words into their “thought bubble” as he hands the picture to you.

Do you remember reading comic books and cartoon strips from the newspaper? Remember the cloud-like “bubble” hanging over the heads of the character speaking? Picture an empty one of those bubbles floating over the head of your child when you know he/she wants something, but doesn’t know how to ask. Then you fill in the thought bubble with simple language.

ie: “I want crackers, please.”

  • Hand the picture to your child. As he/she looks at the picture, fill in the thought bubble. Keep it simple. I used to leave off “please” to make it really easy.  “I want crackers.”  I’d walk with my son to the fridge, and with my hand guiding his little hands, I’d help him take the picture from the fridge. Then I’d assist him, hand over hand, in handing the picture to me. While I did this, I modeled what to say.

ie: “I want Goldfish.” or “I want Praise Baby.” 

  • Once the picture has been handed to you, instantly reward him/her with his/her requested item.

*Note: Don’t place a picture of something for your child to request that you are not willing to reward instantly. For example, if you don’t want your child to have ice-cream until after supper, don’t put the picture of ice-cream in sight to request it until after supper. When your child makes a request, always immediately grant his request. This way, he learns that words are more than just sound; they have power to communicate. Only requests that can be fulfilled instantly should be utilized.

It was interesting when the boys were younger. Judah used to understand his pictures on the fridge or walls. But come Christmas, to Judah, a gift without wrapping paper was just a box with a neat looking toy on the outside. It never occurred to him that’s what was inside the box. Learning to pair pictures to real life was a huge hurdle.

Over the years, Noah has learned to communicate not only using this system, he’s learned to spell. Now, he no longer needs P.E.C.S. to tell me he’s hungry, thirsty, or tired. Judah, on the other hand, still uses the Picture Exchange Communication System. However, now he understands that pictures, wherever they are found, correlate to real life. And when there are pictures on a box or a bag, that’s what is inside. When he wants to know the name of an idea or item, he scours the internet, finding pictures that link to the picture in his head. Once he finds what he’s looking for, he brings his iPad to me or my husband and points to it, waiting for us to tell him what it’s called.

Taco Bell”

“Christmas tree”

“Pixar Lamp”

Larry Boy”

Then he tries hard to repeat exactly what we said and remember it for next time. It’s kind of impressive, really. He’s my son. What can I say? I’m easily impressed!

They both have come a long way in their own unique ways using the Picture Exchange Communication System!


  1. Choose a preferred item, activity, or food.
  2. Take or download a picture of the request
  3. You can laminate it and stick a magnet or Velcro on the back. Place the picture at eye-level on the fridge, wall, or in another high-traffic area
  4. When your child wants to make a request, assist him/her how to give you the picture and model the words in his/her thought bubble (Remember, keep it simple!)
  5. Once an item is requested, immediately reward your child with chosen item, activity, or food
  6. ALWAYS praise your child for doing a great job, even if you had to use a hand-over-hand method and say all the words yourself in the beginning. Always reward any effort on his/her part, even if it’s just a simple single sound.

1 thought on “Making a Request Using the “Picture Exchange Communication System” (P.E.C.S.)

  1. Becky, you are a beautiful person with a beautiful gift! Thank you for sharing…
    God loves you and so do I.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close