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Workshop FAQs
PECS & General Implementation FAQs
Phase I FAQs
Phase II FAQs
Phase III FAQs
Phase IV FAQs
Phase V FAQs
Phase VI FAQs
Website FAQS
Miscellaneous FAQs

Workshop FAQs

What types of trainings/workshops do you offer?
We offer a variety of workshops related to the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and the Pyramid Approach to Education. In addition, other trainings are available related to educating students with developmental disabilities. Please see the full list of workshops available below:
PECS Series

Pyramid Approach Series

Other Staff Development or Training Sessions

Pyramid offers several overviews and/or trainings which range from 1 hour talks to full day trainings. Please contact our office to design the training that best fits the needs of your staff

Overviews and Trainings are available in the following topics

I've never been trained to implement PECS. Which workshop should I attend?
If you are interested in learning how to implement PECS, then our Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) Basic Training is the one for you. It is a solid two days packed with interesting information presented in a dynamic manner. First, you will learn about establishing an effective learning environment for your students by learning about the Pyramid Approach to Education. Next, each of the six phases of the PECS protocol will be described in-depth. You will have an opportunity to practice/roleplay skills, ask questions and watch videos of students in action. You will leave the training with all of the information you'll need to begin implementing the PECS protocol with your learners.

I've been through the PECS Basic Training. I want to learn more about PECS. What should I attend next?
If you have already attended the PECS Basic Training and have been using PECS for at least three months then the PECS Advanced Training is the perfect option. Day One of the PECS Advanced Training focuses on review of each of the six phases of the PECS protocol. Participants are encouraged to ask questions and our Pyramid consultant will help you to problem solve specific solutions for your leaner. You will also have the opportunity to practice/roleplay each of the phases. Day Two describes strategies for implementing communicative opportunities within a variety of functional activities throughout the day. Advanced PECS lessons and concepts are discussed, focusing on attribute and commenting activities. Group activities allow time to plan implementation of all topics discussed within your own setting. You will leave this training with a wealth of new ideas to create communication opportunities!

I'm using a lot of great materials in my setting including reinforcement systems, communication books and visual schedules. I'm not sure how to organize everything. Can you help?
Our Teacher's Guide to Organizing and Managing the Classroom is exactly what you need.
This is a practical workshop filled with suggestions and proven strategies for incorporating all elements of the Pyramid Approach into your busy classroom. We will provide lots of photographs of exemplary classroom settings. We'll also share our tips for storage and organization of all of your related materials. Organizing your classroom to promote use of communication books, token boards, visual schedules, wait cards, break cards, data sheets, etc. can be overwhelming. We are here to help you with that task!

My students are doing well with making requests, but they still have issues with other communication skills that make our community outings, inclusion opportunities and everyday classroom life a challenge. Any ideas?
It sounds like our Teaching Communication Skills for Independence workshop is what you need. This talk focuses on teaching nine critical communication skills including requesting desired items and activities, help, break, and accepting/rejecting skills. Simple directions, following schedules, responding appropriately to "wait"? and learning to calmly handle transitions within routines are also discussed. This workshop is relevant for students using any type of communication system, including learners using speech, sign language, PECS and/or other augmentative and alternative communication systems.

I've heard a lot of people talking about Verbal Behavior lately. I'd like to learn more about this topic and communication training in general.
We think you will find one of our latest talks, Analyzing and Fine Tuning Communication, very interesting. Participants will learn about B. F. Skinner's book Verbal Behavior (VB) and how it can help them improve their communication training programs for children and adults with various learning and developmental disabilities. Participants will learn how to identify and teach VB in classrooms, home programs and the community. Skinner was explicit that this type of analysis is helpful regardless of the modality of communication selected -- speech, sign, pictures (including PECS), reading/writing, or other augmentative systems. The workshop describes his core language functions, each defined in terms of its functional relevance. In addition, this workshop uniquely addresses how to identify complex verbal operations, demonstrating how seemingly subtle changes in our teaching strategy may result in significant differences regarding what students learn. We also describe how an understanding of identification of these complex verbal functions can lead to improvements in teaching strategies no matter which modality is selected. The protocol for PECS (Frost and Bondy, 2002) is used as an example of a training sequence that can be analyzed using VB. The workshop reviews issues related to the difficulty of teaching communicating about emotions and feelings, and describes some of the central issues related to autism.

I'm working with students with Asperger Syndrome this year. Do you offer any trainings to enhance my teaching skills for students with Asperger Syndrome?
You've seen how effective the Pyramid Approach to Education is with students with autism and other related disabilities. This approach is effective for students with Asperger Syndrome, as well. Join us for Asperger Syndrome: Critical Features and Effective Strategies to learn ways to adapt the Pyramid model to the needs of these very special students. Special attention is paid to practical, proactive strategies in the areas of communication, social skills and self-management.

I am working with several students with challenging behaviors. Do you have a workshop that focuses on behavior intervention strategies?
Our Guide to Managing Challenging Behaviors is the perfect workshop for you. This one-day training focuses on the introduction of broad-spectrum applied behavior analysis (ABA) within the framework of the Pyramid Approach to Education. Through hands on and thought provoking activities, you learn the necessary steps to create an effective behavior plan. Participants will also learn how to measure, assess and maintain the efficacy of behavior intervention. You will learn why the creation of effective learning environments is a key element in behavior management intervention.

I need help with creating an educational environment for my learners. I get frustrated with my current lessons because they feel so isolated and detached from each other. Despite our best efforts, our learners still need constant prompting. Help!
We think you'll walk away feeling invigorated and excited about making some changes after attending our What is Autism Workshop. This presentation focuses on designing effective educational environments for students with autism and other developmental disabilities using the Pyramid Approach to Education. Educators will learn to create effective lessons in multiple settings using a broad array of teaching strategies. The model helps educators organize and prioritize their responsibilities in teaching critical functional skills as well as functional communication skills to learners. The Pyramid Approach places an emphasis on creating effective lessons that promote communicative initiation by children to help minimize their dependence upon adults.

We are putting a new special education program in place and we realize the value of proper training for all of our staff. What workshops are best for us?
The Pyramid Approach: Creating Effective Teaching Environments 5-Day Package is perfect for you. This workshop provides in-depth information about all the elements of effective educational environments, plus lots of opportunities to practice your new skills and apply them to your own learners. The five training days may be scheduled consecutively over the course of one intense week or interspersed throughout the year. You and your team will learn to practice and plan for functional activities, reinforcement systems, functional communication, contextually inappropriate behaviors and alternatives, generalization, creating effective lessons, specific teaching strategies, minimizing and correcting errors, and data collection and analysis. This training also includes all of the content of our PECS Basic Training. Activities include lecture, demonstration, video review, group writing activities, team planning, and role-playing.

We want the in-depth training of the Pyramid Approach to Education, but our students already have a functional communication system. Do we still need to attend the PECS portions?
If your students currently have a functional communication system in place, you can opt to attend the Pyramid Approach Basic Training. This package consists of the material included in the Pyramid Approach: Creating Effective Teaching Environments 5-Day Package, without the PECS components.

Does Pyramid offer consultation within classroom, home and/or community settings?
Our Pyramid consultants would love to provide guidance to you, your team and/or the learner. Our consultants all have a wealth of knowledge and experience working with learners with autism and related disabilities. We can help you transform your knowledge and ideas into usable skills.

PECS & General Implementation FAQs

What do I need to prepare for each learner prior to beginning PECS?
The most critical element to the success of PECS is identification of a powerful set of reinforcers. The team must identify items and/or activities that the learner enjoys. Once these reinforcers have been identified, the items will need to be carefully monitored so that accessibility is limited. If these items are always freely available, the leaner would likely be less motivated to request the items during your initial PECS lessons. In addition, pictures will need to be made prior to your first PECS session. The symbol set does not matter in the early stages of PECS. We recommend that you identify a symbol set that is easy for you to reproduce and maintain. If changes in the symbol set are necessary, these changes will be made in Phase III.

How many trainers do I need to implement Phase I of the PECS protocol?
You must have two trainers to begin implementation of the PECS protocol with your learner. One person will play the role of the communication partner. The second trainer will play the role of the physical prompter. Research indicates that physical prompts delivered from behind the learner are more effective and easier to fade than those that are delivered from the front. As such, if you do not have two trainers available you should wait to begin implementation.

The person I am thinking about for PECS is not able to match. Should we postpone the introduction of PECS until these skills have been mastered?
Matching/discrimination skills are not necessary to begin PECS. PECS begins by teaching the important foundational communication skills of "how to communicate" and "how to be persistent with communication." We begin by using single icons during the first two phases of PECS. During the initial phases, the picture functions as a ticket that must be exchanged with a communication partner. These concepts parallel typical language development, in that young children begin engaging in basic communication skills (i.e. joint attention with gestures) prior to development of the first words. In a similar fashion, we teach the art of communication via PECS first and then focus on building the picture vocabulary in Phase III. Specific teaching strategies are utilized in Phase III to teach discrimination of the icons. These teaching strategies have been effective with children who previously were not able to master a variety of match-to-sample lessons.

What about imitation, especially speech imitation?
Speech imitation requires many prerequisite skills and can be a very difficult task for many students with autism and related developmental disabilities. In addition, it may take months or years until functional speech is developed. Despite some of our very best efforts, some students may never be able to use speech as a primary means of communication. As such, the team should consider functional communication skills as the main focus. At a minimum, implementation of the PECS protocol will provide your learner with a way to make his/her wants, needs and comments known to others in the environment.

At Pyramid, we value functional imitation skills. The learner should participate in a variety of imitative activities that target gross motor, fine motor, sound/syllable/word imitation throughout all activities planned during the day. Activities should be tailored and based upon the skill level of each student. These lessons should occur outside of functional communication training sessions. Functional imitation lessons, in conjunction with PECS, will ultimately be most beneficial for your learner.

Does every learner need their own PECS book? Is it ever appropriate to use topic boards?
As we view the PECS book as equivalent to the learner's voice, each learner will need to have their own communication book. Typically developing students don't share voices, so our students should not be required to share the communication books. The learner will be taught to transport the book to all settings beginning at Phase II. After that time, it will always be the student's responsibility to carry the book between settings.

In addition, following Phase III discrimination training it is appropriate to use topic boards. These boards contain vocabulary that is relevant to a specific location or activity. For instance, in the home setting there may be a topic board located in the kitchen that includes a variety of food choices. In the motor area at school, the board may include all relevant pictures of gross motor activities. Remember that if the item is reinforcing to your leaner, the picture from the topic board should also be replicated in the PECS book. One helpful strategy within the home setting may be to use the pages within the communication book as the topic boards that can be posted around the home. That way, when you're ready to leave the house, the boards can be easily gathered into the communication book.

Phase I FAQs

How long should a training session last?
The length of the training session will be dependent on two variables. The first variable involves the learner's interest. You can conduct one trial or 20 trials, as long as your learner continues to initiate. Once the learner stops initiating (i.e. reaching towards the item), the trainer can decide to either offer a new/different reinforcer or end the session. Keep in mind that you should always end the session on a positive note, prior to satiation, boredom and/or occurrence of Contextually Inappropriate Behaviors (CIBs).

The second variable involves the availability of the second trainer. Two trainers are required for implementation of Phase I of the protocol. As such, session length may sometimes be dependent on the time constraints of the second trainer.

How many pictures do you introduce in Phase I?
Visual discrimination skills are neither a prerequisite for starting Phase I, nor a target objective of this phase. During Phase I the picture acts as a ticket that is exchanged for a desired item. As such, only one picture is presented at a time.

However, the learner may ask for several different items during a session. Each time the reinforcer changes, the corresponding picture is placed directly in front of the student. So, although only a single picture is presented at one time, the student should be exchanging a variety of pictures for all identified reinforcers.

How many trainers do I need to implement Phase I of the PECS protocol?
You must have two trainers to begin implementation of the PECS protocol with your learner. One person will play the role of the communication partner. The second trainer will play the role of the physical prompter. Research indicates that physical prompts delivered from behind the learner are more effective and easier to fade than those that are delivered from the front. As such, if you do not have two trainers available you should wait to begin PECS implementation.

How many settings should I target for PECS implementation?
PECS should be implemented in all settings beginning at Phase I. The initial exchanges typically take place in a structured setting, as the communication partner, physical prompter and student are aligned close together. Trainers should structure communication opportunities in the classroom, playground, cafeteria, home, community, etc. Anywhere a speaking student is using his voice to communicate is a target area for PECS implementation.

We have been working on Phase I for quite some time and the child is not independently exchanging the icon. What could be the problem?
The following areas may need to be addressed to help skill acquisition in Phase I:

  1. Assess the items you are using. Are the items/activities powerful reinforcers from the learner's perspective? Conduct frequent preference assessments. Also, be sure to engineer your environment so that reinforcers are not "free" throughout the day. Reinforcers should be placed inside containers or on high shelves, so if the learner wants to access the item, he/she has to make a request.
  2. Have you been waiting for the child to initiate (i.e. reach toward the item) BEFORE prompting the exchange? Phase I targets learner initiation, so the reach must happen before the trainers intervene. If the student is not reaching towards the item, this may be an indication that the leaner is no longer interested in the reinforcer. This may be a good time to conduct a miniature reinforcer assessment within the lesson.
  3. Have you been using two trainers to teach the exchange? You must have two trainers to teach Phase I. There is no way to teach Phase I initiation skills with a single trainer.

Please note that some learners may demonstrate a slower learning curve. If the student tends to learn all skills at a slower pace, then it would be reasonable to assume that acquisition of Phase I skills would also take some time.

Phase II FAQs

How many pictures are presented at one time at Phase II?
Discrimination is not a requirement for Phase II. As such, only one picture is presented at a time at Phase II. The picture should be placed on the front of the book, as the communication book is introduced at the beginning of this phase.

I don't want my students getting up out of their seats during the school day. However, I realize that persistence is an important skill to teach. How can I reconcile these issues?
Teaching distance and persistence will be imperative for our students to view PECS as a functional means of communication. Our students must learn that they can communicate with all people in all environments, even if the communication partner isn't nearby. As such, you should identify times during the day when travel is appropriate. This can occur during natural movement times including physical education, recess time, etc. In addition to traveling within the structured classroom settings, you may also teach your learners to acquire attention in other ways. Many of our students learn to raise their hands to acquire the teacher's attention within the classroom setting.

What about the learner with mobility difficulties? How can I teach persistence with PECS?
For our students that have mobility issues, including students that are wheelchair bound, we should not expect walking/moving long distances. Instead, we will teach use of a call switch (i.e. talking photo frame, Big Mac Switch, bell, etc.). The physical prompter will teach the learner to hit the call switch, that is programmed with a generic expression such as, "Come here, please."? This will be the communicative partner's indication to approach the student. From there, the student will exchange the single picture for the reinforcer. The communication partner should slowly increase the amount of time before availability to receive the learner's message. The call switch and communication book should be permanently located in an area that is easily accessible (i.e. book and switch placed on wheelchair).

Phase III FAQs

When should discrimination training at Phase III begin?
As soon as the student has demonstrated distance and persistence with communicative interactions, Phase IIIA - Visual Discrimination skills should be introduced. During structured training sessions, the student will begin to work on discriminating between a highly preferred and non-preferred item. During other times during the day, the learner should continue to generalize Phase II skills.

My student is struggling with visual discrimination at Phase IIIA. Are there any alternatives? Before considering use of alternative strategies, the team should assess the training procedures that have been used to teach Phase IIIA.

  1. Did the team begin with a highly preferred vs. a non-preferred or contextually irrelevant item?
  2. Were all team members implementing the 4-step error correction strategy?
  3. Was the team quickly reinforcing the new behavior in discrimination training?
  4. Did the team persist with the above strategies for long enough to determine the effectiveness of the strategy? Were enough trials at the level of training conducted each day?
  5. Also keep in mind that the team should be providing the student with opportunities at his level of training and at his level of mastery across each day.

If Phase IIIA (the first level of Discrimination Training) was implemented properly, and progress has not been documented, then alternative strategies should be explored. Any alternative you use will involve changing some part of the lesson (i.e. how we present the choices). These changes are often in the form of prompts that we put into the lesson to help the student succeed. Once we note success, those prompts should be faded to elimination. Refer to your handout packet from the PECS Basic Training or the PECS Training Manual for a refresher on some Discrimination Training Alternatives. Please visit our products page at for our new modules focusing on Alternative Discrimination strategies.

When is new vocabulary introduced?
New vocabulary can be added at any phase. Remember, the new vocabulary is chosen based upon your learner's preferences/reinforcers. With the pictures set-up on the front of the book, the trainer should conduct a correspondence check to ensure that the learner understands the picture.

Phase IV FAQs

Is it okay if my learner puts the reinforcer icon on the sentence strip before he puts the "I want" icon on the strip?
During active training of the Phase IV skills, the learner is taught to first place the sentence starter (I want) on the sentence strip and then to place the reinforcer picture on the strip. After mastery of Phase IV, the student may independently begin constructing the sentence strip in novel ways. The learner may place both pictures on the strip at the same time. The learner could also first place the reinforcer picture on the sentence strip followed by the sentence starter. These types of sentence strip constructions are fine, provided that the final exchanged sentence strip appears in the correct order. If errors in sequence do occur, remember to use the Backstep Error Correction Procedure.

Who deconstructs the sentence strip and/or places the pictures back inside the book?
Initially, the communicative partner should remove the pictures from the sentence strip and replace both the strip and pictures on/in the book. Requiring the PECS user to do so unnecessarily slows the communicative response for him or her. Some children insist on being the ones to put their pictures back, though. This is fine.

Essentially, as students become integrated into community activities, they will need to learn to take the sentence strip back from the "lay communicative partner,"? so that pictures and sentence strips don't get lost. When teaching this skill, we recommend the use of physical prompts or gestures instead of verbal prompts (i.e., "Put your pictures away"). The physical prompts or gestures you insert into this lesson should be much easier to fade than verbal prompts and will promote independence as quickly as possible.

My student inconsistently vocalizes while constructing the sentence strip or while I am "reading" it to him. I want him to vocalize EVERY time! How can I encourage speech without demanding it?
During Phase IV training and beyond, the trainer should pause while reading the sentence strip. This pause time is known as the constant time delay and gives the student a chance to vocalize. If the learner displays vocal approximations and/or clearly articulated words, we will "have a party"! We want to differentially reinforce any speech attempts by providing more of the reinforcer or a longer amount of time with the item. The message to the learner is that speech is GREAT, but his/her functional communication system will continue to be an effective way to communicate on days when the words are not easy to produce.

When should I introduce attributes?
Attributes should be introduced immediately following Phase IV mastery. Prior to introducing specific lessons, the team should identify attribute concepts that are important and meaningful from the student's perspective. Examples could include color, size and/or shape concepts. Remember that the student does not need to demonstrate receptive understanding of the concept prior to use of the concept expressively.

Phase V FAQs

I have a student who is so adept at spontaneous requests that I am not able to ask the question "What do you want?" quickly enough. How can I teach the skill of responding to this question when this occurs?
This is a common occurrence and we will attempt to change the learning environment slightly in order to teach this skill. While we often recommend that the icons related to the lesson be placed on the front of the communication book for initial training sessions, this may indeed promote the type of behavior you are describing. Try placing all of the learner's icons inside of the communication book, including the "I want" icon. This will create a bit of a delay to the pictures and may allow you the opportunity to ask the question and provide the delayed prompting strategy. Be sure to provide opportunities for the student to request spontaneously across the day as well!

Phase VI FAQs

Will all students master Phase VI concepts?
Because the consequence for commenting is social reinforcement, Phase VI can be a difficult skill for some of our learners. We will begin by teaching commenting based upon the sense that is most motivating and/or meaningful from the learner's perspective. Common sentence starters include: I hear, I see, I smell, etc. Though not all learners will have success with this phase, the team has still provided the student with a functional means of communication to request important items and/or activities.

My learner has demonstrated success with responsive commenting during structured activities. However, he is not commenting spontaneously. Any advice?
"What do you see/hear/smell/etc?", the communicative partner can ask, "What do you?" and then ask, "What do?". The communicative partner can systematically eliminate the entire question as a way to elicit the spontaneous comment. Please note that not all of our students will demonstrate success with spontaneous commenting. Celebrate the skills that the student has mastered. It's wonderful that the student has mastered spontaneous and responsive requesting, as well as responsive commenting!

Website FAQs

What is the RSS icon on your homepage for?
Pyramid Educational Consultants, Inc. would like to announce that in keeping up with current technology we are pleased to offer a Really Simple Syndication news feed. This is also known as a Rich Site Summary. Click here to read more about RSS feeds. We provide this service so that our clients can retrieve up to the minute news about Pyramid from their mobile devices such as cell phones, PDAs, etc. For more information, please consult your mobile device manufacturer. For the software necessary to read an RSS feed (provided you do not have Internet Explorer 7 which will do it automatically) we recommend the RSS Compendium.

Why are some elements of your webpage not showing up correctly, such as the videos or other navigational elements?
The problem may be due to the fact that some sections of our webpage were encoded using Adobe Flash. You will need the latest version of Flash (version 9.0). It can be downloaded for free via Adobe's website. Adobe Flash is compatible with most Internet Browsers such as Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.

How often do you update the website?
The website is generally updated on a weekly basis. News and updates are posted as they occur. About once a week we will update our main page. We try to keep our main page the most up to date as possible, but sometimes it can be a slow news week.

What do your recommend in order to view your webpage?
We recommend Microsoft Windows XP or higher, with either Microsoft Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox.

How can I contact Pyramid with questions?
If you have a specific PECS/Pyramid question, please use the Contact US link located on this page. You can also email us directly at We will try to answer your question as quickly as possible, but please be aware that this could take a few business days. If you have specific questions regarding hosting/attending a workshop or would like more information about consultation, please feel free to contact us directly at 1-888-732-7462.

Where can I find information regarding PECS in Italian?
Our multimedia section has all of our PECS related information including PECS in Italian .

Miscellaneous FAQs

What is your physical address?
The address for Pyramid Educational Consultants, Inc. in the United States is as follows: Pyramid Educational Consultants, Inc. USA (English Only)
13 Garfield Way
Newark, DE 19713

For the addresses of our companies around the world click here.

Picture Exchange Communication System®, PECS®, and Pyramid Approach to Education® are the registered trademarks of Pyramid Educational Consultants, Inc.