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Functional Communication Training (FCT): The Most Important Intervention In Your ABA Toolbox

Functional Communication Training (FCT) is one of the most important interventions within the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). It aims to teach learners how to use communication as a means of getting their needs met. To effectively work in the field of ABA, especially if you work with autistic learners or other learners with communication delays, you have to understand how to use this powerful tool. If you’re not using this intervention, your learners are missing life-changing opportunities.

Contents

What is Functional Communication Training (FCT)?
The 5 Steps For Using Functional Communication Training FCT
Advantages and Disadvantages of FCT
FCT For Multiply Maintained Behaviors
FCT For Nonvocal Communicators
FCT As Part Of A Comprehensive Treatment Package
FCT Implemented By Parents And Teachers
Functional Communication Training (FCT) Example
Ethical Considerations Related to FCT
Research Related to Functional Communication Training
References and Related Reading

What is Functional Communication Training (FCT)?

Let’s begin by answering the question, “what is FCT?” Functional Communication Training is a method of teaching learners to use a functionally-equivalent communicative expression rather than the target behavior. Essentially, you teach learners how to get what they want through communication rather than challenging behavior.

The fact is, challenging behavior is nothing more than communication. Learners with poor communication skills, often communicate by using behavior to tell you what they want. That’s where the term “functional communication” comes from. It’s communication that’s functional (i.e. works) for the learner.

There are 2 main reasons that learners engage in challenging behavior:

  1. They can’t communicate well enough to get what they want
  2. Their communication efforts are not effective in getting what they want

The ultimate goal of Functional Communication Training is to turn this around. We teach the learner to use some form of language or communication to get what s/he wants.

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The 5 Steps For Using Functional Communication Training FCT

Teaching functional communication requires careful planning and an understanding of what the learner wants and how the learner can best communicate his or her needs. Planning should be unique to each individual learner. Here are the 5 basic steps for teaching FCT.

Step 1: Identify The Function Of The Behavior

A fundamental aspect, and the most important first step, of implementing FCT successfully is accurately identifying the function of the challenging behavior. By understanding the underlying purpose or function of the behavior, practitioners develop targeted interventions that teach learners to communicate effectively.

BCBAs identify the function of a behavior through a variety of assessment methods including Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA), Functional Analysis (FA), and Practical Functional Analysis (PFA). This process involves collecting and analyzing data to determine what the learner “gets” by engaging in the target behavior(s).

If you make an error at this step, your intervention will not be effective. The learner must receive the same reinforcer that maintains the target behavior or the learner will continue to engage in the target behavior. In addition, it must be easier for the learner to use communication to access the reinforcer than it is to use the target behavior.

If you need to learn more about identifying the function of challenging behavior, visit our posts:

How To Conduct And Document An Initial Assessment For ABA Services
Functions Of Behavior In ABA: Complete Guide
Operational Definitions: Clearly Define the Behavior

Step 2: Plan The Communicative Response

The second step involves identifying an appropriate form of communication that results in the learner getting what he or she wants based on the outcome of the FBA.  You must consider what type of communication works best for the learner in the triggering situation.  Some vocal communicators struggle with speech when escalated. In this step, it’s important to consider how the learner responds during the situations that trigger the target behaviors.

It is crucial to involve the learner, their family, and other relevant stakeholders in the decision-making process. Engage in open and respectful discussions to understand the learner’s preferences, consider cultural factors, and establish a communication method that aligns with their overall goals and values.

Consider the context within which the learner will need to use the communicative response. For example, if the learner frequently becomes escalated when asked to leave the pool, using an electronic device to communicate that he wants more time might become problematic.

You do not need to choose the learner’s primary form of communication for this intervention. The learner can use verbal language, a communication device, PECS, sign language, or other form of AAC for this intervention. Over time, help the learner develop more complex communication skills, but in a moment of potential crisis, the most important form of communication is one that the learner can use easily.

Depending on the function of the target behavior and the learner’s chosen form of communication, a communicative response might be:

  • Signing for break
  • Saying help
  • Using a communication device to ask for an item
  • Exchanging a picture indicating “my way”

The Competing Behavior Pathway (pictured below) is the best tool to help you identify the phrase you should teach. It is a visual representation of the context in which the challenging behavior occurs with space for you to consider interventions for each component of the context.

When completing the Competing Behavior Pathway, the Replacement Behavior is almost always Functional Communication Training. This intervention is the most efficient way to reduce challenging behavior.

When choosing the communicative response, choose one that addresses as many of the variables that maintain the target behavior as possible. Take a look at the completed Competing Behavior Pathway example below.

The competing behavior pathway-a visual depiction with the top row the setting event, antecedent, behavior and consequence, below the behavior is a box for replacement behavior and in the bottom row is setting event accommodations, antecedent interventions, desired behavior and consequence interventions.

In this example, the functional communicative response chosen was to teach Peter to ask for a break and a walk to the assistant principal’s office. This communicative response leads to the exact same reinforcers that maintain the challenging behavior. This is the key to what makes FCT an effective intervention.

Course catalog image for the Competing Behavior Pathway Guide

For even more information about using the Competing Behavior Pathway to choose the most appropriate target for FCT, check out our guide: Competing Behavior Pathway: The Path from Function to Intervention . In this guide we clear up confusion and get you ready to use FCT with your learners.

Step 3: Teach The Communicative Response

Teach the communication that you identified in the previous step by creating situations where the challenging behavior is likely to occur, then prompting the appropriate communication, before the behavior occurs.  If the learner uses the communication, or even attempts the communication, as it was prompted, immediately reinforce this by giving the learner access to the reinforcer identified in step 1.  

Precursor behaviors are an important part of this step. Precursor behaviors are behaviors the learner engages in that indicate the target behavior might occur. They are the “warning signs” that indicate the learner is beginning to escalate. Sometimes these behaviors occur very quickly and you need to be ready to intervene.

At the first sign of a precursor behavior, begin prompting the communicative response. The goal is to help the learner achieve the reinforcer without engaging in the target behavior. Prompting the communicative response once the target behavior begins may lead to an unwanted behavior chain.

Here’s a real-life example (the name has been changed):

You work with Josie, a 3-year-old with autism, who tantrums when she sees the iPad.  Meaning well, staff have taught Josie to say, “I want iPad.” When she begins to cry and throw herself on the floor, staff prompt her to say, “I want iPad.”  They reinforce this request by giving her the iPad for 3 minutes.  Staff report that her tantrums happen far more frequently now, and she asks for the iPad up to 6 times an hour.  Whenever staff present a demand, she begins to tantrum then asks for the iPad.  She spends all of her time either engaging in a tantrum or playing on the iPad.

In the example above, staff should watch Josie carefully for signs that she may engage in the target behavior. Staff know that when Josie sees someone else with an iPad she is highly likely to engage in the target behavior. When they see another student with an iPad, they should immediately prompt Josie to mand for the iPad. If what she wants varies, staff can teach her an “omnibus mand” or one mand that will all her to access everything she wants (i.e. attention, iPad, escape from demands, etc.). An “omnibus mand” is a simple statement that communicates that the learner wants all her favorite things. For example, Dr. Greg Hanley often teaches the omnibus mand “my way.” When a learner says, “my way,” staff provide all the reinforcers that maintain the challenging behavior.

Step 4: Create Opportunities To Practice The Communicative Response Across Different Contexts

In Step 4, you create opportunities for the learner to practice the communication across settings and situations.  The learner must learn to use the communicative response in different situations where the target behavior occurs.

You must continue to prompt the communication as needed in these different contexts to ensure the learner accesses what he or she wants at each opportunity.  Fading prompts must be done systematically only once the learner has become independent in using the communicative response in each context to ensure the learner continues to use the response while promoting independent responding.

Ensuring generalization of the communicative response is critical, especially if the behavior is potentially dangerous. If you only teach the communicative response in one context, the target behavior is likely to occur more frequently in the other contexts due to behavioral contrast. To avoid this, the learner must receive reinforcement for the replacement behavior across different contexts. Parent or caregiver training is an effective way to ensure the generalization of communicative responses.

Here’s an example from our Competing Behavior Pathway:

Peter has learned to request a break and a walk to the principal’s office while at school but things at home occur as usual. When Peter engages in aggression at home, he is generally able to escape task demands and gain the attention of his parents in the form of reprimands. Although the school reports that Peter is doing well and his aggression has almost stopped, Peter’s aggression at home is at an all-time high. According to his parents, he seems more reactive to task demands than ever before.

Avoid this scenario by providing parent training and giving Peter’s parents the tools they need to support his use of the communicative response.

Step 5: Thin The Schedule Of Reinforcement

Thinning the schedule of reinforcement involves gradually reducing the frequency or magnitude of reinforcement provided for the desired communicative response. Here are some strategies to help you effectively thin the reinforcement schedule while maintaining progress and motivation:

  1. Introduce delayed reinforcement: Initially, reinforcement is provided immediately after the desired communication response. However, as the individual becomes more proficient, you can gradually introduce brief delays in providing reinforcement. Start with short delays (e.g., a few seconds) and gradually increase the duration over time. This helps the learner tolerate delays and promotes more naturalistic communication.
  2. Gradually decrease the magnitude of reinforcement: As the learner begins to accept brief delays to reinforcement, start to gradually decrease the magnitude of the reinforcer available for the communicative response. Magnitude refers to the amount or intensity of the reinforcer. For example, if the learner originally received a 5 minute break after manding for a break, begin to provide a break that is 4 minutes and 30 seconds. The point is to change the magnitude so gradually that the learner may not really be aware that it’s happening.
  3. Gradually increase response requirements: When introducing FCT, you began by reinforcing the communication response on a continuous reinforcement schedule (every correct response is reinforced). To continue to thin the schedule, gradually increase the response requirements by moving to an intermittent reinforcement schedule. It’s best to transition to an intermittent schedule of reinforcement so the learner doesn’t predict when reinforcement will be available for the response. For example, switch from a FR1 schedule to a VR2 so that the learner sometimes receives reinforcement immediately after the response and sometimes there’s a need to wait.
  4. Monitor progress and adjust as needed: Continuously evaluate the learner’s progress and adjust the reinforcement schedule accordingly. If progress stalls or the individual shows signs of frustration or disengagement, consider temporarily increasing the reinforcement frequency before attempting to thin the schedule again.

Remember, thinning the schedule of reinforcement should be a gradual process, tailored to the learner’s unique abilities and needs. It is important to strike a balance between maintaining motivation, promoting independent communication and eventually achieving the Desired Behavior identified in the Competing Behavior Pathway.

Throughout the process of thinning the schedule of reinforcement, the communicative response must always be easier and more effective than engaging in the target behavior. Here’s an example from the completed Competing Behavior Pathway:

You’re working with a 6-year-old boy, Peter, at school. He engages in aggression when presented with task demands and through an FBA you identify that the function of the aggression is escape from task demands. You decide to teach him to ask for a break so that he can escape demands without engaging in aggression. When you begin FCT, you reinforce every mand for a break then as he becomes independent, you begin to thin the reinforcement schedule by adding in a delay. Now, when he mands for a break, staff tell him he can have a break after 1 minute of work. He engages in aggression and manages to avoid the task altogether because he gets sent to the office.

In the example above, FCT worked initially because he was able to escape the task every time he asked for a break. As you began to thin the schedule of reinforcement, it was easier and more immediate for him to engage in aggression to access the reinforcer (escape and access to the assistant principal). Thinning the schedule should happen gradually enough to avoid this situation.

Teaching Children To Identify Signals When Reinforcement Is Available During FCT

One concern with functional communication training is the relatively high rates of reinforcement requested by children. Initially, when using FCT, interventionists must reinforce each request made by the child to reinforce the communicative response. This can lead to rates of reinforcement that are impractical in the natural environment (i.e. home or school). To address this concern, Kuhn, Chirighin, and Zelenka (2010) taught 2 children to discriminate between times when adults engaged in busy and non busy activities. The children’s communicative responses were reinforced during the non busy activities and they were taught to wait during the busy activities.

This study opens the door to other means of signaling to the children the need to wait for a period of time before reinforcement is available again. The authors in the study used natural cues to signal availability of reinforcement , although similar studies have also looked at more contrived stimuli (i.e. signal cards). Although consistent reinforcement is critical to the success of FCT, for the intervention to be practical in the natural environment, teaching delay to reinforcement is a critical step in the process.

Parents, teachers or direct care staff can signal when reinforcement is available through a variety of means such as a bracelet, card or activity. Although it takes a little time and effort to teach this delay to reinforcement, it’s well worth it in the long run.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of FCT

As mentioned earlier, FCT is likely one of the most widely used interventions in our field. This is due to its widespread utility among different learners, settings, and functions of challenging behavior. As with any intervention, professionals must carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of functional communication training before choosing to add it to a learner’s behavior intervention plan (BIP).

AdvantagesDisadvantages
Teaches learners alternative, functional communication skillsRequires individualized assessment and intervention planning
Reduces reliance on challenging behaviorsTime-consuming initial assessment and implementation
Enhances social interactions and relationshipsRequires ongoing data collection and analysis
Increases overall communication repertoireMay require intensive training for practitioners
Increases opportunities for reinforcement— Success may depend on individual’s cognitive abilities
Reduces frustration and increases self-efficacyRequires collaboration among professionals, parents, and teachers
Supports positive behavior change and overall developmentMay not be effective for individuals with severe cognitive impairments
Can be tailored to individual needs and preferences of the learnerRequires consistent implementation and reinforcement
Provides an adaptive and socially acceptable means of communicationSuccess may be influenced by environmental factors
Can be applied across various settings and demographics May result in the development of an undesired behavior chain if not implemented carefully (*see note below table)

It is important to note that the advantages and disadvantages of FCT can vary depending on the learner, their specific needs, and the context in which the intervention is implemented. Professionals and caregivers should carefully consider these factors and seek guidance from qualified practitioners when implementing FCT.

* When challenging behavior is followed by a prompt for a communicative response and subsequent reinforcement, the child may learn that she needs to engage in challenging behavior in order for her communication to result in reinforcement (see the example about Josie above).  

Do you need a course that takes you step-by-step through the process of writing a comprehensive behavior plan? Take our course How to Create a Behavior Intervention Plan. Not ready for a course but still want more information about choosing FCT as an intervention? Read our post Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP): The Complete Guide To Writing A Comprehensive Plan.

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FCT For Multiply Maintained Behaviors

By identifying and addressing multiple variables that maintain challenging behavior, Functional Communication Training (FCT) becomes an invaluable tool in reducing problem behaviors. Conducting a comprehensive functional behavior assessment (FBA) or functional analysis (FA) is the crucial first step. These assessments help pinpoint the specific functions of the challenging behavior, which often involve a combination of variables.

For instance, let’s consider a scenario where aggression arises from being asked to perform a difficult task during a period of low attention, with the consistent response from adults being nagging or negotiation for compliance. In this case, it is likely that the aggression is maintained by both adult attention and escape from the task demand. Implementing FCT involves teaching the child to request the adult’s attention first and then ask for a break, thus replacing both identified functions of the behavior.

Accurate identification of the underlying functions allows for the selection of appropriate communicative responses as replacement behaviors. Carr and Durand (1985) conducted a study that evaluated the effectiveness of FCT on behaviors controlled by access to adult attention and escape from difficult tasks. Teaching communicative responses that serve the same function, whether it is gaining access or seeking escape, often results in significant reductions in challenging behavior.

Consistency and reinforcement play vital roles in FCT. As the replacement behaviors are taught and encouraged, it is important for caregivers, educators, and therapists to consistently respond to the individual’s communicative attempts. Prompting and shaping techniques can be utilized to guide the individual towards using the appropriate communication strategies.

By implementing FCT, not only are problem behaviors reduced, but learners also gain the ability to effectively communicate their desires, preferences, and discomforts. This newfound communication allows for a more harmonious and fulfilling interaction with others, leading to improved quality of life and increased social opportunities.

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FCT For Nonvocal Communicators

Pat Mirenda (2003) reviewed existing research to evaluate the use of different types of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) in teaching functional communication to children who don’t use speech functionally. Many children with autism lack sufficient vocal verbal ability to clearly communicate what they want. For many of these children, challenging behavior becomes a primary means of communication.

Children who don’t communicate with speech learn to get what they want through a variety of means, often including challenging behavior. Teaching these children to use AAC (sign language, PECS, or Speech Generating Device) to communicate these wants and needs leads to a reduction in undesirable behavior as they develop a more extensive repertoire of mands.

Children who use AAC to communicate can be taught to mand for those things they want as we would do with their vocal verbal peers. You can create programs for teaching children to use AAC to request desired items, activities or attention or to escape from those tasks they don’t want to participate in.

Even if your learner uses AAC, incorporate FCT in your programming if this would otherwise be an appropriate intervention.

Let me share a story that illustrates the use of Functional Communication Training (FCT) with nonvocal communicators. Meet Emily, a bright and determined six-year-old girl with autism who struggles with speech. Despite her limited vocal abilities, Emily possesses a strong desire to express herself and interact with others. However, her frustration often leads to challenging behaviors as her primary means of communication.

Recognizing the importance of functional communication for Emily’s overall development, her BCBA, Sarah, decided to implement FCT using her augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) system. Emily was able to mand for many of her favorite items with her AAC device, but she wasn’t using the device in the specific context that maintained her target behaviors.

Sarah reviewed the FBA data in search of a way to help Emily use her AAC device to communicate her needs and wants without relying on the target behavior. Based on the data, Emily’s target behaviors were primarily maintained by escape from task demands, especially demands to engage in adult-led play activities.

Sarah was now equipped with the information she needed to help Emily. Emily had the skills she needed to mand for desired items, but she wasn’t able to mand for escape from these aversive tasks. Sarah began to teach Emily to use her AAC device to say “no” and “all done.” This provided Emily with the tools she needed to make appropriate communication choices. Through consistent practice and reinforcement, Emily gradually learned to use her AAC device to express her preferences.

One day, as Emily and her mother sat down to play a structured game, Emily’s anxiety grew evident. Sensing her discomfort, Sarah gently reminded Emily to use her AAC device to communicate. With a determined look in her eyes, Emily reached for her device and navigated to the appropriate page.

In a clear voice, Emily pressed the button that said, “No, thank you.” Her mother’s face lit up with understanding as she realized Emily’s reluctance to engage in the activity she chose. Instead of insisting, her mother nodded and suggested an alternative activity.

Emily’s smile stretched across her face, grateful for her newfound ability to express herself. The power of communication filled the room, bridging the gap between Emily’s thoughts and her actions. From that moment on, Emily continued to utilize her AAC device to navigate social situations, fostering connections and minimizing frustration.

With Sarah’s guidance and unwavering support, Emily discovered her voice, proving that effective communication knows no bounds. Through her determination and the aid of her AAC device, Emily carved her path towards a world where her thoughts and desires were understood, cherished, and respected.

Ok, this story might be a little dramatic, but it’s essentially a true story of a learner who found her voice through FCT.

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FCT As Part Of A Comprehensive Treatment Package

In the post: Autism and Social Skills: Complete Guide we discuss the use of a Hard Times Board to teach functional communication as a replacement for challenging behavior. In the example below, the social story includes a functional way for the child to use language to escape from an aversive stimuli (a loud noise). The social story identifies the triggers, things the child can’t do and then what the child can say to get away from the noise.

preschool elementary hard times board

Gerhardt, Weiss, and Delmonlino (2004) used a treatment package that included functional communication training and noncontingent reinforcement (NCR) to reduce severe aggression from an 18 year old man with autism. NCR is the delivery of the identified reinforcer for a challenging behavior independent of a specific response. Here’s an example:

You conduct an FBA to determine the variables maintaining your client’s aggression. Based on data analysis, you hypothesize that the behavior is maintained by access to a tangible, specifically the iPad. You determine that NCR is the best intervention to reduce this behavior and establish an initial reinforcement interval of 10 minutes based on baseline data. You train parents to provide your client with the iPad every 10 minutes, regardless of what your client is doing during that interval.

During NCR, there is no requirement that the child perform any specific response or behavior to earn reinforcement. NCR can be an effective intervention when included as part of a complete treatment package that teaches an adaptive alternative behavior. FCT teaches the child how to request that item (or attention or escape, etc.) and NCR reduces the motivating operations (MO) for that reinforcer. Used together, FCT and NCR form a powerful treatment package for high intensity behavior.

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FCT Implemented By Parents And Teachers

Mancil and Boman (2010) looked at generalizing functional communication that was initially taught in a clinical setting to a more natural setting such as the home or school. The authors identified 10 support components that improved the maintenance and generality of functional communication training:

  1. Data collection procedures
  2. Seizing the environment
  3. Planning for generalization
  4. Prompting
  5. Reinforcing
  6. Extinction
  7. Shaping
  8. Fading
  9. Delay
  10. Following data

Although all of these 10 components belong in most ABA treatment packages, it’s helpful to specifically relate them to FCT when considering having professionals or parents outside the field implement the intervention. Training must include all of these components for successful implementation.

Due to the relative simplicity and effectiveness of FCT, parents and teachers often find this intervention highly acceptable and willingly implement it. With minimal training, parents and teachers often implement the intervention with high fidelity.

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Functional Communication Training (FCT) Example

Let’s take a look at this example:

Step 1 – Identify The Function Of The Target Behavior

Mike works with a 6-year-old student named Sam who has autism and limited verbal skills in a general education classroom.  Sam’s class is working on simple addition skills.  Sam is able to count and write numbers.  He has begun to scream and bang the table each time Mike gives him a worksheet to practice addition.  Mike believes that FCT would be an appropriate way to help Sam.  He begins Step 1 and works with the BCBA in the school to conduct an FBA to determine why Sam has started doing this.  The results of the FBA indicate that Sam is trying to gain attention in the form of help from Mike.

Step 2 – Plan The Communicative Response

During Step 2, Mike and the BCBA decide that Sam needs to learn to ask for help.  They decide that PECS is appropriate for Sam, as he is already proficient with making several requests.  Sam will give a picture symbol for help to Mike.

Step 3 – Teach The Communicative Response

Mike moves on to Step 3 of FCT.  He teaches Sam to request help by creating multiple situations where Sam is unable to complete his work independently.  Mike places the picture symbol for help on the front of Sam’s communication book, within easy reach.  During the first trial, Mike gives Sam a worksheet with one difficult math problem on it and immediately prompts Sam to exchange the picture symbol. Mike responds by saying, “You want help,” and assists Sam in completing the problem on the worksheet.

Step 4 – Create Opportunities To Practice The Communicative Response Across Different Contexts

Mike continues with Step 4. He repeats the process through a variety of different worksheets and activities that require help from Mike. Mike gradually fades prompts used to assist Sam in asking for help using a time delay.  During one trial, Sam begins screaming and banging the table. Mike turns away from Sam.  He does not provide any help.  Once Sam is quiet, Mike turns back to Sam who is then able to request help using the picture.  Mike shortens the time delay during the next several trials to reduce the likelihood Sam would engage in these behaviors.  After many days, Sam is able to independently use the picture to ask Mike for help. Mike made sure that Sam only got help when he used the picture to ask.

Step 5 – Thin The Schedule Of Reinforcement

Mike begins to gradually build in a time delay after Sam’s request for help. He starts by making him wait just a few seconds and gradually builds Sam’s ability to wait for help to 5 minutes. He then gradually lessens the help he provides to Sam when asked. Eventually, when Sam asks for help, Mike stands next to him and Sam is most often able to complete the task on his own.

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Ethical Considerations When Implementing FCT

The table below presents some important ethical considerations when implementing FCT with your learners. The table includes specific action steps to help you ensure you practice in an ethical way.

ConcernDescriptionAction Steps to Ensure Ethical Practice
Informed ConsentEnsuring that learners and their guardians are fully informed about the purpose, procedures, potential risks, and benefits of FCT before providing consent for its implementation.Obtain informed consent from learners or their guardians by providing comprehensive information about FCT, including its goals, procedures, potential risks, and benefits. Allow learners and their guardians sufficient time to ask questions and make an informed decision.
Least Restrictive AlternativeUsing FCT as a least restrictive intervention by exploring and considering alternative communication strategies that may be less intrusive before implementing FCT.Conduct a comprehensive assessment of communication skills and explore alternative communication strategies that align with the learner’s preferences and needs. Implement FCT only if it is determined to be the least restrictive and most effective option.
IndividualizationTailoring FCT to meet the unique needs, preferences, and abilities of each individual learner, considering factors such as age, developmental level, cultural background, and communication abilities.Conduct a thorough assessment to understand the learner’s communication strengths and challenges. Design and implement FCT interventions that are individualized, taking into account the individual’s preferences, cultural background, and abilities.
Functional AssessmentConducting a functional assessment to identify the communicative function(s) of problem behavior and ensure that FCT targets the appropriate replacement behaviors.Conduct a comprehensive functional assessment to identify the communicative function(s) of problem behavior and determine the specific communicative goals for FCT. Use validated assessment methods, such as functional analysis or functional behavior assessment, to guide treatment planning.
Ongoing AssessmentContinuously monitoring the effectiveness of FCT and making data-based decisions to modify or adjust the intervention as needed.Implement ongoing data collection and analysis to evaluate the progress of FCT. Use assessment data to make informed decisions about modifying intervention strategies, adjusting communication goals, or providing additional support as necessary.
Generalization and MaintenanceEnsuring that communication skills acquired through FCT are generalized across settings, individuals, and stimuli, and maintained over time.Develop a comprehensive generalization and maintenance plan that includes strategies to promote the transfer of communication skills to various environments and with different communication partners. Implement regular follow-up assessments to monitor the maintenance of acquired skills and provide necessary supports.
Respect for AutonomyRespecting the learner’s autonomy by involving them in decision-making processes, considering their preferences, and providing choices within the framework of FCT interventions.Foster a collaborative approach by involving the learner in goal-setting, intervention planning, and decision-making. Offer choices whenever possible to promote autonomy and ensure that interventions align with the individual’s preferences and values.
Training and CompetenceEnsuring that professionals implementing FCT are adequately trained, knowledgeable, and competent in the principles and procedures of FCT to provide effective and ethical interventions.Obtain appropriate training and ongoing professional development in FCT principles and procedures. Continuously update knowledge and skills to stay informed about current research and best practices in FCT. Seek supervision and consultation when needed to enhance competence and ensure ethical implementation.
Cultural SensitivityRecognizing and respecting the cultural values, beliefs, and practices of learners and their families, and considering cultural factors when implementing FCT interventions.Develop cultural competence by gaining awareness and knowledge of diverse cultural backgrounds. Incorporate cultural considerations into FCT interventions, respecting and valuing the learner’s cultural identity. Collaborate with families and cultural experts to ensure culturally sensitive and appropriate interventions.
Avoiding HarmMinimizing the risk of harm or distress to individuals during the implementation of FCT, considering factors such as emotional well-being, physical safety, and potential adverse effects.Conduct ongoing risk assessments and take steps to minimize potential harm or distress during FCT implementation. Continuously monitor for adverse effects and promptly address any concerns or unexpected outcomes. Prioritize the emotional well-being and physical safety of individuals throughout the intervention process.
Parental InvolvementPromoting collaboration and active involvement of parents and caregivers in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of FCT interventions.Foster open and respectful communication with parents and caregivers, involving them as partners in the intervention process. Provide training, support, and resources to help parents and caregivers effectively implement FCT strategies in daily routines. Regularly communicate progress and involve parents and caregivers in decision-making and goal-setting.

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Research Related to FCT

Below is a table summarizing research articles related to implementing FCT. The table includes important action steps to help you put these ideas into practice.

Article TitleSummaryAction Steps
Reducing behavior problems through functional communication trainingThis article discusses functional communication training (FCT) as an effective approach for reducing behavior problems in individuals with developmental disabilities. It presents case studies and provides guidelines for implementing FCT, including functional assessment, teaching communication skills, and utilizing reinforcement strategies.Conduct a functional assessment to identify the communicative function(s) of problem behavior. Design and implement FCT interventions that target appropriate alternative communication skills. Use reinforcement strategies to reinforce functional communication responses and reduce problem behavior.
Treatment of severe aggression in an adolescent with autism: Non-contingent Reinforcement and Functional Communication TrainingThe article describes a case study of using non-contingent reinforcement and FCT to treat severe aggression in an adolescent with autism. It discusses the implementation and effectiveness of the intervention and emphasizes the importance of functional analysis and individualized treatment approaches.Conduct a functional analysis to identify the environmental factors contributing to the aggression. Implement non-contingent reinforcement to reduce aggression and FCT to teach appropriate communication skills. Tailor the intervention to the individual’s specific needs and monitor progress closely.
Discriminated functional communication: A procedural extension of functional communication training.This article introduces discriminated functional communication (DFC) as a procedural extension of FCT. It explains how DFC involves teaching individuals to communicate differently in different contexts based on discriminative stimuli. The study presents a case example and provides step-by-step guidelines for implementing DFC.Consider using DFC as an extension of FCT when individuals need to learn context-specific communication skills. Identify relevant discriminative stimuli and teach individuals to vary their communication responses based on these stimuli. Provide systematic training and reinforcement to promote discrimination skills.
An analysis of functional communication training as an empirically supported treatment for problem behavior displayed by individuals with intellectual disabilitiesThe article evaluates FCT as an empirically supported treatment for problem behavior in individuals with intellectual disabilities. It reviews the existing literature and provides evidence for the effectiveness of FCT across various populations and settings. It also discusses considerations for implementing FCT with individuals who have intellectual disabilities.Familiarize yourself with the literature supporting the effectiveness of FCT for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Conduct functional assessments and design individualized FCT interventions based on the specific needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Monitor progress and make data-based decisions for treatment adjustments.
Functional communication training: A review of the literature related to children with autismThis literature review explores the use of FCT with children with autism. It discusses the theoretical foundations, empirical support, and various implementation strategies for FCT. It emphasizes the importance of individualization and functional assessment in FCT interventions.Conduct a thorough literature review to understand the theoretical and empirical foundations of FCT. Individualize FCT interventions based on the unique needs and characteristics of children with autism. Use functional assessment methods to identify communicative functions and design appropriate interventions.
Functional communication training in the classroom: A guide for successThe article provides a guide for implementing FCT in classroom settings. It discusses the importance of collaboration between educators and behavior analysts and provides practical strategies for integrating FCT into the classroom routine. It emphasizes the role of reinforcement, data collection, and generalization to maximize the effectiveness of FCT.Collaborate with educators to implement FCT in the classroom. Provide training and support to educators on FCT strategies and implementation. Use reinforcement effectively to promote learning and generalize communication skills across settings. Collect data to monitor progress and make data-driven decisions.
Toward functional augmentative and alternative communication for students with autismThe article explores the application of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) strategies within a functional framework for students with autism. It discusses the use of visual supports, choice-making opportunities, and individualized AAC systems to enhance communication and participation.Incorporate augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) strategies into a functional framework for students with autism. Use visual supports, such as visual schedules and choice boards, to facilitate communication. Design individualized AAC systems that meet the specific needs and abilities of students with autism. Provide training and support to ensure effective use of AAC strategies.
An evaluation of resurgence during treatment with functional communication trainingThe article examines resurgence during FCT, where previously extinguished problem behavior reoccurs. It discusses the factors contributing to resurgence and provides strategies for preventing and managing resurgence within FCT interventions.Be aware of the possibility of resurgence during FCT interventions. Monitor for signs of resurgence and implement strategies to prevent or manage it effectively. Utilize appropriate reinforcement schedules, alternative behaviors, and response-specific fading to minimize the likelihood of resurgence. Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of FCT interventions and make necessary adjustments.

Please note that the action steps provided are general recommendations, and specific actions may vary depending on the context, learners involved, and applicable laws and regulations.

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References and Further Reading

Carr, E. G., & Durand, V. M. (1985). Reducing behavior problems through functional communication training. Journal of applied behavior analysis18(2), 111-126.

Gerhardt, P. F., Weiss, M. J., & Delmolino, L. (2004). Treatment of severe aggression in an adolescent with autism: Non-contingent Reinforcement and Functional Communication Training. The Behavior Analyst Today4(4), 386.

Kuhn, D. E., Chirighin, A. E., & Zelenka, K. (2010). Discriminated functional communication: A procedural extension of functional communication training. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis43(2), 249-264.

Kurtz, P. F., Boelter, E. W., Jarmolowicz, D. P., Chin, M. D., & Hagopian, L. P. (2011). An analysis of functional communication training as an empirically supported treatment for problem behavior displayed by individuals with intellectual disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities32(6), 2935-2942.

Mancil, G. R. (2006). Functional communication training: A review of the literature related to children with autism. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities41(3), 213.

Mancil, G. R., & Boman, M. (2010). Functional communication training in the classroom: A guide for success. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth54(4), 238-246.

Mirenda, P. (2003). Toward functional augmentative and alternative communication for students with autism. Language, speech, and hearing services in schools.

Volkert, V. M., Lerman, D. C., Call, N. A., & Trosclair‐Lasserre, N. (2009). An evaluation of resurgence during treatment with functional communication training. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis42(1), 145-160.

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