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Functional Communication Training (FCT)

A set of practices that replace a challenging behavior that has a communication function with more appropriate and effective communication behaviors or skills.

Evidence Based
Ages: Skip to Evidence

Steps for Implementation

Step 1. Identifying the Interfering Behavior

Identify an interfering behavior or a subtle communicative form that may be an interfering behavior.

Step 2. Completing a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)

  1. A. Complete a high-quality FBA that includes:
    1. indirect assessment (e.g., interviews, record reviews, questionnaires) and
    2. direct assessment (e.g., Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence observation).
  2. Identify the function of the interfering behavior.

Step 3. Identifying a Replacement Behavior as a Substitute for Interfering Behavior

  1. Select a form of communication that is appropriate to the learner (e.g., signing, verbalizations, pictures).
  2. Choose a replacement behavior that:
    1. can be taught in a short amount of time and
    2. allows the learner to quickly learn the behavior and gain access to the reinforcement.
  3. Identify a replacement behavior that is acceptable and appropriate for the environment and the learner.
  4. Choose a replacement behavior that is recognized by multiple communicative partners.
  5. Incorporate attention-getting into the replacement behavior if necessary (e.g., when using sign language).

Step 4. Designing Implementation Data Collection Procedures

  1. Implement data collection procedures that are functional, meaningful, and available to team members responsible for data collection.
  2. Data are collected:
    1. before FCT is implemented (typically during the FBA process) and
    2. during the implementation of FCT (e.g., weekly).
  3. Data collection focuses on:
    1. antecedents,
    2. prompts required by the learner to produce the replacement behavior,
    3. frequency of the replacement behavior,
    4. frequency of the interfering behavior, and
    5. consequences of the replacement/interfering behavior (i.e., what happens right after the replacement/interfering behavior).
  4. Use data to monitor FCT effectiveness and whether aspects of FCT need adjustment.

Step 5. Manipulating the Environment to Elicit the Interfering Behavior

  1. Teach the replacement behavior in the environments where the interfering behavior occurs.
  2. Manipulate materials or activities to provide opportunities for repeated practice of the replacement behavior.

Step 6. Planning Opportunities for Generalization

  1. Teach the replacement behavior(s) with multiple communication partners.
  2. Teach the replacement behavior(s) across multiple environments.
  3. Train communicative partners to respond to the learner’s use of the replacement behavior.
  4. Introduce varied vocabulary for requesting, if appropriate for the learner’s developmental level.

Step 7. Prompting Learners to Use Replacement Behavior(s)

Prompt the learner to use the replacement behavior, beginning with a prompt that ensures errorless learning.

Step 8. Not Reinforcing the Interfering Behavior

  1. Do not reinforce any instance of the interfering behavior, if possible.
  2. Intervene as minimally as possible if the interfering behavior is potentially dangerous.
  3. For subtle communicative acts, make the interfering behavior less efficient than the replacement behavior by:
    1. pausing after the learner uses the subtle communicative act,
    2. asking, “What do you want?”
    3. prompting the learner to use the replacement behavior, and
    4. providing reinforcement for using the replacement behavior.

Step 9. Providing Reinforcement

All communicative partners consistently provide immediate reinforcement in response to the replacement behavior.

Step 10. Shaping the Response

  1. Initially accept any approximation of the replacement behavior.
  2. Begin to require more conformance to the desired replacement behavior as training continues.

Step 11. Fading the Use of Prompts

Teachers/practitioners slowly fade the use of prompts, using data and time delay.

Step 12. Increasing the Time Between the Replacement Behavior and Reinforcement

  1. Teachers/practitioners talk with team members to determine a reasonable amount of time for learners to wait between production of the replacement behavior and delivery of reinforcement.
  2. Teachers/practitioners slowly increase the length of time between the production of the replacement behavior and the delivery of reinforcement.

Step 13. Monitoring Learner Progress

  1. Collect progress-monitoring data for individual learners to determine:
    1. Learners’ use of communicative acts in different settings
    2. The type and intensity of prompts needed by learners to use communicative acts correctly
  2. Use progress monitoring data to determine next steps.

Research and Outcomes

Research Summary

Age Range: 3-18

Skills: Communication, social, play, school readiness, adaptive/self-help, challenging/interfering behavior

Settings: Home, school, community, clinic

Evidence Rating: Evidence Based

The information found in the Research Summary table is updated following a literature review of new research and these ages, skills, and settings reflects information from this review.

Outcomes Matrix

The Outcomes Matrix shows outcome areas by age for which this evidence based practice is effective
Age: 0-5 6-14 15-22
Academic/Pre-academic Yes Yes Yes
Challenging/Interfering Behavior Yes Yes
Communication Yes Yes Yes
Joint Attention Yes
Mental Health
Motor Yes
Play Yes Yes
School Readiness Yes Yes
Social Yes Yes Yes
Vocational Yes
More about Intervention Outcomes

Functional communication training (FCT) is a set of practices that replace a challenging behavior that has a communication function with more appropriate and effective communication behaviors or skills. is a set of practices that replace a challenging behavior that has a communication function with more appropriate and effective communication behaviors or skills. FCT is preceded by a functional behavior assessment to identify the function of an interfering behavior followed by teaching an appropriate communication skill that may serve the same purpose for the learner with autism. FCT often includes differential reinforcement procedure in which an individual is taught an alternative response that results in the same class of reinforcement identified as maintaining problem behavior. Problem behavior is typically placed on extinction. The distinct component of FCT is that the alternative response is a recognizable form of communication (e.g., a vocalization, manual sign, Picture Exchange Communication System®) (Steinbrenner, et al., 2020).