Picture Exchange Communication System: International Education Explained

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a unique method of communication that uses pictures and symbols to help individuals express their thoughts, needs, and desires. This system is particularly beneficial for people who have difficulty with verbal communication, such as those with autism or other developmental disorders. In the realm of international education, PECS is a vital tool that transcends language barriers, enabling teachers and students from different linguistic backgrounds to communicate effectively.

PECS was developed in the United States in 1985 by Lori Frost, a speech-language pathologist, and Dr. Andrew Bondy, a psychologist. Since its inception, the system has been adopted worldwide, making it a significant component of international education. This article will delve into the intricacies of PECS, its application in international education, and its impact on learners across the globe.

Understanding the Picture Exchange Communication System

The Picture Exchange Communication System is a visually based approach to communication. It involves the use of pictures and symbols that represent different objects, actions, and concepts. The individual using PECS selects and presents these pictures to convey their messages. This system is designed to be straightforward and easy to understand, making it accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

PECS is typically introduced in six phases, each building on the skills learned in the previous stage. The initial phases focus on teaching the individual to exchange a single picture for a desired item or activity. Later phases introduce sentence structure and the use of attributes, such as colour and size, to enhance communication.

The Six Phases of PECS

The first phase of PECS, known as the ‘Physical Exchange’, involves teaching the individual to exchange a picture of a desired item with a communication partner. This phase is crucial as it establishes the fundamental concept of communication – that it is a reciprocal exchange.

The second phase, ‘Expanding Spontaneity’, builds on the first by encouraging the individual to initiate communication without prompting. The third phase, ‘Picture Discrimination’, introduces multiple pictures, teaching the individual to select and present the correct picture to communicate their desire.

Advantages of PECS

PECS offers numerous benefits for individuals with communication difficulties. Firstly, it provides a tangible and visual means of communication, which can be easier to understand than verbal language for some individuals. Secondly, it promotes independence by enabling individuals to express their needs and desires without relying on others to interpret their non-verbal cues.

Furthermore, PECS can enhance social interaction skills. By encouraging individuals to initiate communication and engage in reciprocal exchanges, it can help develop crucial social abilities, such as turn-taking and joint attention.

PECS in International Education

In the context of international education, PECS serves as a universal language that transcends linguistic boundaries. It can be used in classrooms worldwide, regardless of the native language of the teachers or students. This makes it an invaluable tool for international schools, where students and staff may come from a variety of linguistic backgrounds.

Moreover, PECS can support the inclusion of students with communication difficulties in mainstream classrooms. By providing these students with a means of communication that their peers and teachers can understand, PECS can help foster an inclusive learning environment where all students can participate and engage.

Training and Implementation

Implementing PECS in an international education setting requires training for both teachers and students. Teachers need to understand how to use and teach PECS, while students need to learn how to interpret and use the system to communicate. Fortunately, there are numerous resources available, including training workshops, manuals, and online tutorials, to support this process.

Once the training is complete, teachers can begin to integrate PECS into their classrooms. This may involve setting up a PECS board with a range of pictures representing common classroom objects and activities, and teaching students how to use this board to communicate.

Challenges and Solutions

While PECS offers many benefits, implementing it in an international education setting can present some challenges. For instance, cultural differences may influence how certain pictures are interpreted. To address this, it’s important to use culturally appropriate and universally understood symbols and images.

Another challenge may be resistance from students who are unfamiliar with PECS. To overcome this, teachers can introduce the system gradually and provide plenty of positive reinforcement to encourage its use.

Impact of PECS on International Learners

PECS has had a profound impact on learners in international education settings. For students with communication difficulties, it has provided a means of expressing themselves, enhancing their self-confidence and participation in classroom activities. For their peers, it has fostered understanding and acceptance of diversity.

Moreover, PECS has facilitated communication between teachers and students from different linguistic backgrounds, promoting a more inclusive and effective learning environment. By transcending language barriers, PECS has truly revolutionised international education.

Case Studies

There are numerous case studies that illustrate the positive impact of PECS on international learners. For instance, a study conducted in a multicultural school in Dubai found that the introduction of PECS significantly improved communication and social interaction among students with autism.

Another study in an international school in Japan reported similar findings, with PECS enhancing the participation and engagement of students with communication difficulties in classroom activities.

Future Prospects

The future of PECS in international education looks promising. With the increasing recognition of its benefits and the growing demand for inclusive education, the use of PECS is likely to continue to expand worldwide.

Moreover, advancements in technology offer exciting possibilities for the evolution of PECS. For instance, digital PECS apps are now available, making the system more accessible and versatile than ever before.


The Picture Exchange Communication System is a powerful tool that has transformed communication in international education. By providing a visual language that transcends linguistic boundaries, it has fostered inclusivity and understanding in classrooms around the world.

While implementing PECS can present some challenges, the benefits it offers for students with communication difficulties and for the broader school community are immeasurable. As we look to the future, the role of PECS in international education is set to continue to grow, enhancing communication and learning for students worldwide.

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