Functional Communication Instead of Problem Behaviour

All behaviour is a form of communication and serves a purpose, or a ‘function’, as we refer to it.

Functional Communication Training (FCT)  is a useful tool to teach your child how to request for:

  • an item or activity (i.e., food, toys, etc.)
  • attention (i.e., play a game, praise, and tickles)
  • stopping a difficult or unpleasant task (i.e., take a break from a challenging math question)
  • sensory stimulation (i.e., flapping hands during dance)

Both appropriate and inappropriate behaviour can have similar functions. When teaching an acceptable behaviour (such as asking for something they want), be sure to start by teaching them to communicate in a way that is already something they can do with minimal effort.  For example, if they have words, you could have them say the word of the item they want before giving them the item.  If they have word approximations, have them try to say the word.  And if they don’t have words, have them point to the item or exchange a picture of the item.  The goal here is to place an easy expectation that will give your child what they want without needing to engage in problem behaviour. 

How do I teach functional communication?

When your child engages in problem behaviour for something they want:

  • Ignore the problem behaviour and prompt them to communicate by
    • modelling the appropriate word or
    • physically prompting them to point to the item or
    • exchange a picture 

The key is to immediately reinforce their communication efforts. 

  • As soon as they communicate, give them what they asked for and praise them for asking appropriately.

If you follow this strategy consistently, your child will learn what is expected to get what they want.  You will soon start to see behaviour decrease and functional communication increase.