Bloorview Macmillan Centre

Bloorview site:

 25 Buchan Court, Willowdale, Ontario M2J 4S9

 Phone: (416) 425-6220 Toll Free: 1-800-363-2440

 Fax: (416) 494-9985

 MacMillan site:

 350 Rumsey Road, Toronto, Ontario M4G 1R8

 Phone: (416) 425-6220 Toll Free: 1-800-363-2440

 Fax: (416) 425-6591


Objective:  Using the PECS, the student learns to spontaneously initiate communicative exchanges.  PECS can be used with children or adults who are not yet initiating requests, comments, etc.  People using PECS are taught to approach and give a picture of a desired item to a communicative partner in exchange for that item.  While advancing through the phases of PECS, the student learns to sequence words to create sentences.  Pointing to pictures is discouraged as pointing does not require interaction with a person.  Using PECS, students learn to gain the attention of the communication partner in order to make a request.


Objective:  Upon seeing a highly preferred item, the student will pick up the picture of the item, reach toward the communication partner, and release the picture into the partner’s hand.

Note: At this phase, it is not essential for the student to look at or identify the pictures.

 Preparing for Phase I:

identify all of the objects, foods, activities, etc. that the student is interested in   Note: avoid focusing only on one activity (such as food); it is important the student learns that communication occurs in all activities
develop a representational set for those items (i.e., photographs, Picture Communication Symbols (PCS), etc.)
indentify for yourself which activies you are going to start training in



No verbal prompts are used during this phase (such as “What do you want?” or “Give me the picture”).  
Plan to use a variety of pictures, but only one at a time.  
Try to “practice” PECS during naturally occurring situations throughout the day.  
Although two trainers are helpful, it is possible to do this phase with only one.

  Training Procedure:

when you see the student reaching for a desired item, take that opportunity to work on the physical exchange  
allow the child to engage in the activity for a short period and then remove the item (or stop the activity)  
get the picture that represents the identified item  
sit directly in front of the student  
place the picture of the item between you and the student  
hold the desired item in one hand while showing it to the student (the reason for holding it is so that the student cannot take it)  
hold out your other hand as a cue for the student to give you the picture (“open-hand cue”)  
initially, the student is going to reach for the desired item  
without saying anything (i.e., no verbal cuing!) and using hand-over-hand, help the student to pick up the picture and put into your “open hand” (put the object down while doing this)  
as the student releases the picture into your hand, you label his action by saying something like “oh, you want the play dough!” (this is beneficial for those children who tend to repeat sentences exactly how they are presented as well for those who have difficulty with pronoun reversals)  
without delay, give the desired item to the student

Helpful Hints:

only give parts of the activity at a time, so that you can practice this for several turns/trials during one activity
if there is only one item, take away the item after a few seconds (or one turn, etc.) and practice the exchange several times
only use items that the student has shown an interest in at that moment – the child must want the item or else the exchange will not be reinforcing

Fading Cues:

as the student becomes familiar with the expectations of the exchange, start fading the physical assistance (i.e., hand-over-hand)
next, start fading your “open-hand” cue
move on the Phase II once the student is consistently and independently exchanging a picture in order to retrieve a desired item