Functional Communication Training (FCT) teaches children to replace undesirable behaviors with more appropriate responses. The purpose of FCT is to teach an acceptable response that serves the same function as the problem behavior with the goal of decreasing the problem behavior. These responses can be in the form of vocalizations, sign language, gestures, or responses from a communication device. Caregivers, teachers, and service providers can use this strategy across settings to promote generalization of skills.
The first step in creating a FCT program is to identify the function of a target behavior (e.g. attention, escape, access, or automatic). Once the function has been identified, an alternative behavior that possesses the same reinforcing properties as the problem behavior can be taught as a replacement behavior. For example, a behavior technician places a demand during a session. The client engages in a vocal tantrum. In FCT, a more appropriate response would be the client requesting a break. This could be in the form of saying, “I need a break”, signing “take a break”, or presenting a “break” card. This replacement behavior serves the same function as the tantrum, but it is a more socially acceptable behavior.
Replacement behaviors should be presented in a way that is most appropriate to the child. For example, if a child does not communicate vocally, a replacement behavior could be in the form of a sign or gesture. FCT is an antecedent intervention, so it is important to prompt the learner to demonstrate the replacement behavior before the problem behavior occurs. The replacement behavior should be consistently reinforced while the problem behavior is ignored. FCT can be used in conjunction with other behavior change strategies to teach more acceptable behaviors and decrease problem behaviors.