What is the Point of Functional Communication Training?


Submitted by: Anna Beth Baden, M.Ed., BCBA

The field of Applied Behavior Analysis places a huge emphasis on the function (or the reason) of behavior. There are four main functions for behavior: (1) to get attention, (2) o get out of something (escape), (3) to obtain a preferred item (tangible), or (4) because of the way it feels (sensory). We engage in many behaviors in order to get something or get away from something. For many, it is easy to get access to things they want. For example, I could ask someone for some Sour Patch Kids or begin a conversation with someone to get attention. For people with autism or other disabilities, this communication can sometimes be extremely difficult. This difficulty or lack of communication skills often leads to problem behaviors.

Functional Communication Training (FCT) is often used to teach people with disabilities to communicate a person’s wants or needs.  In order to teach a person how to communicate we must first determine what the person wants. Behavior Analysts use assessments to figure out why a person is engaging in the challenging behavior and then create a plan to teach the person a socially appropriate way to communicate that want or need. This socially appropriate way to communicate may be through spoken words, such as “I need a break,” or even by handing a picture to a person to communicate that need.

When first beginning FCT, the appropriate requests may need to be prompted and must be honored or reinforced every time they occur. Over time, as the person is independently and appropriately requesting what he or she wants, a delay can be built in before the request is reinforced until, eventually, the person will be able to tolerate a long delay before getting the item or escaping the demand.

Functional Communication Training is a wonderful tool that can be used to improve communication between you and your loved ones.