PECS For Autism

Augmented and Alternative Communication

PECS stands for Picture Exchange Communication system. It is a system that has long helped children with autism who are non verbal to communicate more easily and clearly. The basic idea is that the child makes a choice from a list of pictures that will indicate what he or she wants or needs. This allows the non verbal child communicate and can cut back on behavior problems that go along with a child’s lack of communication skills.

History and Background

These devices first began to become widespread in the 1970s and early 1980s with companies such as DynaVox. Improvement made to the devices made them smaller, easier to transport, easier to use and made them easier to use accurately. Voice output was beginning to be synthesized as well as digitized, so that the voice could be more easily understood. The vocabulary of the devices were growing throughout the 1980s as well. Notable users of these devices include Stephen Hawking and the late Roger Ebert. Prox Talker was another popular model.


There are certain devices that can be qualifies as Picture Exchange Communication system devices. They are also known as Augmentative Communication Devices. One such device is the DynaVox. The DynaVox has become the household name for speech generating devices.

Devices such as DynaVox allow the child to choose from the list of pictures or words. The choices are then processed by the machine, and the machine forms a sentence. The sentence is then read aloud for others to hear, including the non verbal child. Studies show that this approach can help non verbal children become verbal.

Features and Methods

Many of these devices now come with touchscreens that the child can easily access to make his or her choice. If the child is unable to make a selection on a touch screen, other methods such as a joystick that will choose the correct choice can be used. Even eye tracking has been used as a method for these devices. Typing, such as on a touch screen, is called direct access, whereas using a joystick is called indirect access.

Indirect access includes switch access scanning, in which a joystick or similar device is used to choose from a list of choices (pictures or words). This is different from direct access, such as typing, because the child is not directly choosing their choice, but choosing from a pre set list. The best option is based solely on the child’s needs and development. Fine motor skills are needed for direct access, whereas indirect access can be used more flexibly.

Some of these devices may be included in a larger apparatus, such as a wheelchair. Many people with autism are bound to a wheelchair for mobility and have their Picture Exchange Communication System or Augmented and Alternative Communication devices attached to their wheelchair, which is often electrically operated as well.

Funding and Education

There is a considerable amount of public and private funding for these devices. The most notable organization being the Augmented and Alternative Communication Institute, or the AAC Institute as it’s often known. The AAC Institute is a non-profit charitable organization that specializes in finding and providing the most effective and useful equipment for each individual non verbal personal. They provide aid in funding as well as education on how to use the equipment properly. Education on the equipment is available to both the user and the user’s caretaker(s). The AAC Institute is by far the biggest of the not for profit organizations funding Augmented and Alternative Communication Devices.

AAC Funding Help is another popular organization for this purpose. This website,, has a wealth of information on funding sources for Augmented and Alternative Communication devices. This website provides information on how to get funding help and aid through medicare and medicaid. It also has information on how to get funding through certain insurance.

The Tricare program, which was formerly known as CHAMPUS, is publicly funded for families of active duty military personnel. This organization has been known to fund Augmented and Alternative Communication devices for years. This has few limitations on what can be funded.

Other associations include the American Speech and Language Hearing Association, and other state funding assisted organizations that may help with funding and financial aid for Augmented and Alternative Communication devices.

These organizations share the common goal of putting the appropriate technology in the hands of those who need it. Those with autism are certainly in need of such technology and these organizations share a wealth of information on how to get funding and financial aid.

Awareness and Assistance

There are also separate that help those with Augmented and Alternative Communication Devices is ISAAC, the International Society for Augmented and Alternative Communication Devices, formed in 1983. This is largely an awareness and informational society. The goal is to help those with communication devices and the caretakers of those with communication devices. The organization helps them to better understand how to use the devices and improving the lives of the people with these devices and their caretakers, therapists, doctors and parents if the person with autism is a child.

There are also programs and institutes that specialize in education. One such organization is RESNA, or Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America. This organization includes webinars and other developmental classes to learn to use and understand Augmented and Alternative Communication devices.


The organizations that fund the devices are also often avenues for education and awareness. The two often go hand in hand. With so many people with autism dependent on Picture Exchange Communication systems, it is no wonder that there are so many prominent programs that are there to educate and give special instruction on how to use such equipment. Such equipment is often more difficult for people without autism to understand, while those with autism are fairly quick learners when it comes to such technology. Learning to use these types of equipment is akin to learning to talk in children without autism. Using these systems becomes second nature to the person with autism.

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