Picture Communication System

Picture Exchange System

UDL 4.1 UDL 5.1

A Picture Communication System is a type of Augmentative and Alternative Communication System (AAC) that allows individuals with communication impairments to communicate using pictures and/or symbols. To request tangible items, students select pictures of the desired items and either hand them to a communication partner or attach them to the front of a binder. Students learn to utilize a Picture Communication System by progressing through increasingly demanding communication tasks with a Speech-Language Pathologist, allowing them to become more proficient at communicating with the picture system. Typically used with nonverbal individuals, a Picture Communication System is a low-cost method to give students a way to communicate within a social context. Additionally, the visual and tactile nature of a Picture Communication System is powerful in supporting students developing early speech skills.

Ready-to-Use Resources

Picture Icons

Visual Schedule Icons

A sheet of icons for that can be affixed to schedules to provide visual support.

Grade K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 · Behavior & SEL · 1 pages

Online Resources

Picture Choices: Online Resources

A reference sheet with websites that contain free, educational images that can be used as picture choices for various classroom activities.

Grade K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 · English Language Arts, Reading, Writing, Speaking · 1 pages

Visual Aid

Icons: Visual Task Schedules

A collection of icons to use when creating visual task schedules. Variations include both academic and behavioral icons. Laminate and use individually or with blank visual task schedules.

Grade K, 1, 2 · · 2 pages

Implementation Tips

Creating a Picture Communication System
Create a durable, low-cost Picture Communication System out of a standard A4 ring binder, double velcro, a pencil, scissors, a ruler, and laminated pictures of items/places/people from the student’s environment. Check out [[|this example]] of one type of communication system.
Identifying Motivators
Develop a reinforcer inventory for yourself and the Speech-Language Pathologist to find out what motivates the student to utilize the Picture Communication System to make a request. Check out [[|this example]].
Organizing Pictures
Organize the student’s pictures within the binder by using file tabs (e.g., food choices, school activities, toys, etc.). Decrease assistance with the tabs if and when students are capable of locating their own pictures.
Physical Assistance
Provide hand-over-hand assistance to assist the student in moving the desired picture to the velcro on the front cover of the book. Then, provide the student with that item.
Reinforcing Systems
Manipulate the environment by keeping items out of reach of the student in order to reinforce the expectation that the student needs to communicate using a picture before receiving each item (e.g., goldfish, toy, crayon, etc.), keeping the student’s ability level in mind.
Scaffolding Support
Decrease cues to utilize the system as the student becomes more proficient with it. In the beginning stages, provide hand-over-hand assistance or verbal cueing. In later stages, prompt the student to utilize the Picture Communication System by pointing at it.
Providing Feedback
Reinforce the student’s use of the system by providing the student with immediate feedback related to their request (e.g., “You told me you wanted to use the purple crayon, here you go,” or “You’re telling me you’re ready to go outside, but it is not yet time for that.”).
Generalizing Communication
Promote generalization of the Picture Communication System by utilizing it in a variety of situations (e.g., snack time, free time, transitions) and with various people.


Communicating Choices
During snack time, the teacher takes the snack pictures from inside the Picture Communication System book and lines them up. The teacher asks the student, “What do you want?” The student selects the picture of the goldfish crackers and attaches it to the front cover of the book. Then, the teacher reinforces understanding of the student’s message, “You’re telling me you want goldfish,” and moves all the snack pictures except for the goldfish, back to the inside of the book. The teacher hands a goldfish to the student and moves the goldfish picture off the velcro, keeping the rest of the goldfish out of reach from the student. When ready for more goldfish, the student reattaches the goldfish picture to the front cover. The teacher provides the student with one or two more goldfish. The teacher and student repeat this process throughout snack time.
Acknowledging Requests
During free time, the teacher takes out the Picture Communication System book and attaches the typed “I want” picture on the front of the book. The teacher asks, “What would you like to do today during free time?” The student opens the book and finds a picture of dessert and places it on the front cover next to “I want.” The teacher acknowledges the student’s message saying, “You’re telling me that you would like your dessert. First, we will have free time, then go to lunch. After lunch, you can have your dessert. Right now, I’m asking you to tell me what you would like to do during your free time.” The student selects a free time activity by selecting a picture and placing it next to “I want.”

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