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MODULE: Functional Communication Training (FCT)

Why Use FCT?

FCT is particularly useful with learners with ASD because of the communication deficits associated with autism. Also, many learners with ASD engage in interfering behaviors including those that are repetitive, stereotypical, and disruptive in nature. In fact, research suggests that an inverse relationship exists between communication skills and the production of undesirable behaviors (Mancil, Conroy, Nakao, and Alter, 2006). That is, learners with ASD often engage in interfering behaviors because they do not have key social and communication skills that allow them to successfully interact with others. Interfering behaviors often are problematic because of their effect on others (e.g., a learner with ASD who yells interferes with the learning of other students, a learner who bites may harm another student). Interfering behaviors also are problematic for learners with ASD because they prevent learners from acquiring critical social and communication skills and also restrain their growth and development in other domains (e.g., adaptive, academic). FCT is helpful for learners with ASD who are engaging in interfering behaviors and lack social-communication skills because they are systematically taught functional communicative acts that result in “marked reductions in the level of behavioral problems” (Carr & Kemp, 1989, p. 562). Furthermore, FCT facilitates functional and generalized communication skills that increase independence skills and improve the quality of life for individuals with ASD.

With FCT, learners with ASD are taught more developmentally appropriate forms of communication. For example, many learners with ASD engage in what is known as autistic leading in which they take adults or peers by the hand and lead them to a desired object. FCT has been used successfully to replace autistic leading with more developmentally appropriate forms of communication, such as pointing (Carr & Kemp, 1989).

One advantage of FCT is that learners benefit from the reinforcement of a communicative partner’s response, regardless of who that partner is. Some sophisticated behavioral programs, such as time out from positive reinforcement as a consequence of problem behavior, require that the communicative partner be trained in how to appropriately respond.  However, simple requests for attention or assistance (like those taught in FCT) can be understood by many people in the community, and these communicative partners are able to respond to the communication of people with disabilities (Durand & Merges, 1989, p.115). For example, a teenager on the bus may be able to point to a picture requesting “help” – and the bus driver would be able to understand the message and help the teen count out his change. This scenario is far preferable to the same teen needing help, not being able to communicate that need, and throwing his change at the driver!

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