Ever seen problem behavior? Yep, me too!

There are 2 main functions of behavior. People are either engaging in a behavior to GET something (attention/item/activity/sensory stimulation) or GET AWAY from something (attention/item/activity/sensory stimulation)

Is it ok to want or not want certain things? Of course, it absolutely is! The challenge is when problem behavior, perhaps in the form of a “tantrum,” is used to communicate those wants and needs.

Problem behavior can impede upon an individual’s  ability to learn and the learning of others. It can also present a barrier to being successful in less restrictive environments and make it difficult to form and maintain pro-social reciprocal relationships.

Ok, so what does all of that mean? Well, it means that reducing problem behavior is likely to result in an increase in quality of life for the individual and those around them.

Often times, when problem behavior is identified, it’s followed by a conversation that usually goes something like, “so and so needs to stop doing that.”

Sure, we need to reduce and/or eliminate the problem behavior, but what if that problem behavior is communicating a want or  need such as a need for assistance or attention, or maybe wanting someone to stop an activity that is unpleasant. Those wants and needs are not the issue, it’s the means of communicating them via problem behavior that we need to target.

Not to worry, here comes our hero: FCT

FCT stands for Functional Communication Training and it is essentially teaching individuals to use words as a replacement for problem behavior. Here’s the magic ingredient though, the words must communicate what the individual was trying to communicate with the problem behavior in the first place. The words must serve the same function as the initial behavior.

As promised, FCT really is as easy as 1, 2, 3!

  1. Identify the function of the problem behavior
  2. Teach language that serves the same function (get something / get away from something)
  3. Reinforce the new language and stop reinforcing the problem behavior

Voila! Here are some examples:

Student throws math book and papers on floor after getting stuck on a problem. Function has been identified as escape/avoidance. FCT: “I need some help”

Child hits sister every time mom takes a phone call. Mom has a history of stopping the phone call and sitting 1:1 with child talking about how hitting is not nice. Function has been identified as access to attention. FCT “Excuse me, mom”

Client snatches toys from other kids in the sandbox. Function has been identified as access to tangibles. FCT: “Can I have a turn?”

Notice that in all of the above examples, the use of words gets the individual what they want/need by bypassing the very effortful problem behavior.

Want to learn more about FCT? Check out these resources:

NPDC Module on FCT

Functional Communication Training: A review and Practical Guide 

Using Functional Communication Training to Replace Problem Behavior 

AFIRM Training Module: FCT