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Functional Communication Training (FCT): Teaching Communication and Reducing Problem Behaviours

How FCT Can Help Reduce Problem Behaviors and Increase Effective Communication

About a year and a half ago, I started working with a non-verbal child who would often grab my arm and squeeze hard enough to leave a mark. He did this to get my attention, express his needs and wants, and even when he was excited. As I worked with him, it became clear that this boy was not "bad" but simply had no alternative ways to express himself. Squeezing my arms was his "universal" language at this point.

Fortunately, I knew that Functional Communication Training (FCT) was the key to reducing this grabbing behaviour and increasing his quality of life by improving his means of communication. After only a couple of weeks of FCT, the grabbing behaviour began to decrease, and he started expressing himself through gestures, sign language, and the use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices.

Now, you may be wondering: That’s wonderful but what is exactly FCT is?

FCT is based on the idea that all behaviours serve a function, and by identifying the function of problem behaviour, we can teach more effective ways of meeting that person's needs.

The goal of FCT is to teach individuals to use functional communication to replace problem behaviours that interfere with their daily lives. For example, a child who screams and hits when they want a toy can be taught to use a more appropriate communication strategy, such as asking for the toy verbally or pointing to it.

One of the key features of FCT is that it is individualised to meet the unique needs of each person. FCT involves assessing the individual's communication skills and analysing the problem behaviours they are exhibiting. From there, a treatment plan is developed that includes specific communication skills to be taught and reinforcing those skills to reduce problem behaviours.

FCT is typically implemented by qualified professionals in a structured and systematic way, with specific goals and objectives set for each session. The approach involves teaching communication skills in a naturalistic context, such as during play or daily activities, and reinforcing appropriate communication. It also involves coaching the parents in continuing the intervention at home.

Studies1 have shown that FCT can lead to improvements in communication skills, social interactions, and overall quality of life. Research has also shown that FCT is an effective approach for teaching communication skills to individuals with a wide range of abilities and disabilities, including individuals with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disabilities, and intellectual disabilities. I actually would argue that it is actually effective for teaching communication to all children (and adults).

If you or someone you know could benefit from FCT, consider reaching out to us or another qualified behaviour analyst to learn more. Together, we can help individuals learn new ways to communicate and lead more fulfilling lives.


Hagopian, Fisher, W. W., Sullivan, M. T., Acquisto, J., & LeBlanc, L. A. (1998). Effectiveness of Functional Communication Training With and Without Extinction and Punishment: a Summary of 21 Inpatient Cases. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 31(2), 211–235.

Ghaemmaghami, Hanley, G. P., & Jessel, J. (2021). Functional communication training: From efficacy to effectiveness. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 54(1), 122–143.


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