Enhancing Communication with Functional Communication Training in ABA

What is Functional Communication Training (FCT)?

Functional Communication Training (FCT) is a therapy for autistic children. It aims to replace challenging behaviour with new ways of communicating that achieve the same thing. The therapy might focus on verbal communication, or it might include signing, pictures or speech generating devices.

FCT is often used in combination with other behaviour therapies.

FCT is also a major part of Positive Behaviour Support.

Who is Functional Communication Training (FCT) for?

Functional Communication Training (FCT) is designed for autistic children who show challenging behaviour.

What is Functional Communication Training (FCT) used for?

Functional Communication Training (FCT) is used to identify the purpose of a challenging behaviour and help children learn a new way of communicating that involves similar or less effort.

For example, a child might be distressed when they want a toy but can’t ask for it. In FCT, the child would learn how to ask for the toy differently – for example, using speech, Key Word Sign, gestures or pictures.

Where does Functional Communication Training (FCT) come from?

The first research in the area of functional communication was conducted in the 1980s in the United States.

Functional Communication Training (FCT) grew out of more traditional behaviour therapies. People getting these traditional therapies tended to go back to old ways of behaving after their therapy. FCT was designed to achieve longer-term changes in behaviour.

What is the idea behind Functional Communication Training (FCT) for autistic children?

Functional Communication Training (FCT) is based on learning theory and the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). Learning theory suggests that how people behave in a situation depends on their previous experiences of similar situations.

The idea behind FCT is that all behaviour, including challenging behaviour, is a form of communication. An important principle of FCT is that you must help a child learn a new way to communicate before trying to change a challenging behaviour. If the child can communicate in a new way, they don’t need the behaviour anymore.

What does Functional Communication Training (FCT) involve?

The first step is a detailed functional assessment of a child’s challenging behaviour.

The next step is starting the therapy. This involves:

  • deciding on a new way for the child to communicate
  • systematically teaching the child the new communication skill
  • reinforcing the child’s behaviour whenever the child uses the new skill
  • ignoring the challenging behaviour whenever it happens
  • prompting or reminding the child to use the new skill when appropriate.

This therapy can take a long time, perhaps weeks or months. It can be quite intensive to do, especially in the early stages.

Does Functional Communication Training (FCT) help autistic children?

High-quality research shows that when Functional Communication Training (FCT) is used as part of an overall behaviour therapy, it reduces challenging behaviour in both the short and long term. Research shows that it also helps autistic children develop new and more effective communication skills to replace the behaviour.

Even when FCT isn’t used as part of an overall behaviour therapy, research suggests that it might help with changing children’s behaviour.

Research suggests that FCT can work better for children than adults.

  1. Understanding FCT: Functional Communication Training is a strategy used primarily in behavioral therapy, especially in ABA. It’s designed to teach individuals effective communication skills that serve as alternatives to inappropriate or challenging behaviors. The core idea is that many challenging behaviors stem from an inability to communicate needs or desires effectively.
  2. The Role of ABA: In Applied Behavior Analysis, FCT is used as a part of a comprehensive behavioral intervention plan. ABA focuses on understanding and improving human behavior. It emphasizes the importance of reinforcing desired behaviors while reducing undesired ones. FCT fits into this by providing a positive and functional method of communication.
  3. Identifying the Function of Behavior: The first step in FCT is to identify the function of the challenging behavior. This involves understanding why the individual is exhibiting this behavior – whether it’s to seek attention, escape a task, or something else. This assessment is critical to developing an effective FCT plan.
  4. Developing Communication Skills: Once the function is identified, the next step is to teach the individual an appropriate communication behavior that serves the same function. For example, if a child throws tantrums to get attention, FCT would involve teaching the child to use a word, gesture, or an assistive communication device to appropriately request attention.
  5. Reinforcement Strategies: Key to FCT is the use of reinforcement. When the individual uses the new communication skill correctly, it’s immediately reinforced, thereby encouraging its use over the challenging behavior. This reinforcement is tailored to be meaningful for the individual.
  6. Generalization and Maintenance: FCT also involves teaching the individual to use their new communication skills across various settings and situations. The goal is for these skills to become a natural part of their communication repertoire.
  7. Collaborative Approach: FCT often involves a team approach, including therapists, educators, and family members. Consistency across environments is crucial for the success of FCT.

In essence, Functional Communication Training within ABA is a powerful tool for replacing challenging behaviors with positive communication methods. It focuses on understanding the reasons behind challenging behaviors and teaching more appropriate ways to communicate needs and desires. Through a personalized and reinforced learning approach, FCT aims to enhance overall communication abilities, thereby improving quality of life and interactions for individuals undergoing therapy.

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