Description: Functional communication training is based on the hypothesis that problem behavior such as tantrums may be a form of communication. It involves two components: 1) identifying the function or purpose of an individual’s non-productive behavior (e.g., tantrum) by conducting a functional behavior assessment (see entry), and 2) teaching an appropriate communication skill that may serve the same purpose for the individual. For example, if the function of an individual’s tantrum behavior has been identified primarily as a way to get out of doing some difficult task, then the instructor might teach the child to instead ask for a break by speaking, pointing, or gesturing when a task becomes challenging, rather than tantrumming.

Research Summary: Research indicates that functional communication training can reduce challenging behavior and increases communication in children with autism. It may be particularly effective when combined with other behavior reductive strategies such as withholding reinforcement for challenging behavior and providing reinforcement for alternative behaviors. However, it may be difficult to identify appropriate communication skills and alternative behaviors to reinforce.

Recommendations: Functional communication training is an appropriate strategy to consider for reducing challenging behavior and increasing communication for children with autism.

Selected References:

Systematic reviews of scientific studies:

Johnston, J. M. (2006). “Replacing” problem behavior: An analysis of tactical alternatives. The Behavior Analyst, 29, 1-11.

Mancil, G. R. (2006). Functional communication training: A review of the literature related to children with autism. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, 41(3), 213-224.

Matson, J. L., Dixon, D.R., & Matson, M.L. (2005). Assessing and treating aggression in children and adolescents with developmental disabilities: A 20-year overview. Educational Psychology, 25(2-3), 151-181.

Durand, V. M., & Merges, E. (2001). Functional communication training: A contemporary behavior analytic intervention for problem behaviors. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 16(2), 110-119.

For additional information:

Prizant, B. M., & Wetherby, A.M. (2005). Critical issues in enhancing communication abilities for persons with autism spectrum disorders.  In F.R. Volkmar, F.R., Paul, R., Klin, A., Cohen, D. (Eds.), Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders, Vol. 2: Assessment, Interventions, and Policy (3rd ed.). (pp. 925-945). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Carr, J. E., Coriaty, S., & Dozier, C. L. (2000). Current issues in the function-based treatment of aberrant behavior in individuals with developmental disabilities. In J. Austin & J. Carr (Eds.), Handbook of Applied Behavior Analysis. (pp. 91-112). Reno, NV: Context Press.

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