By Ashley Hudson, M.Ed., CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools
Every classroom has a system in place to manage student behavior. Schools in Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools (CHCCS) implement Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS). Some schools within CHCCS implement complementary approaches, such as Conscious Discipline, but what do you do when these approaches are not working for a student?
Functional communication is a method for understanding the communicative intent of problem behavior and finding an appropriate replacement for that behavior. Functional communication teaches us that the primary function of communication, and therefore behavior, is to get things (e.g., attention, objects), or escape things (e.g., avoiding attention, avoiding work).
Central assumptions to this approach are that:
- All problem behavior has a purpose for the person
- Children can/should be taught how to communicate, and not just how to reduce undesired behaviors
- A single behavior can have multiple purposes (e.g., escape demands, getting a preferred toy)
- The goal of intervention is not solely to reduce undesirable behavior, rather the goal is to change the environment, so that the student is able to communicate more effectively
- Most communicative behavior serves as a means of requesting (e.g., attention, sensory)
- Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or language disorders may lack the skills to request in a socially acceptable manner
Speech is not required for verbal communication, although it is the most common medium. Verbal communication is a behavior that is communicative in nature. In a child with a language impairment, such as a child with Autism, verbal communication may be not characterized by the use of speech. For example, rather than saying that he/she wants more time with the iPad, the child may fall on the floor when it is time to transition to a non-preferred task. The Functional Communication model suggests that the child needs to be taught socially acceptable language to request more time with the iPad (e.g., “I want more time with the iPad”).
FUNCTIONAL COMMUNICATION MODEL
Change in Environment
*Important note: This model also stresses that both positive and negative reinforcement increase behavior.
The Functional Communication model states that behavior has communicative intent. It further states that it is imperative that the intent/function of behavior is determined so that socially appropriate communication (i.e., requests) can be increased, and problem-behavior decreased.
- Consequences (i.e., desired outcomes) cause behavior, not antecedents
- Problem behavior is serving a purpose
- Use the purpose/intent of the behavior in context to teach appropriate communication
- Teach a child to tell you that they want/don’t want something (e.g., I need a break, I want more time with the iPad) rather than focusing on compliance with a task demand
- Travers, Jason, Turning Problem Behavior Into Effective Communication, ASHA Professional Development
- Travers, Jason. GET THE MESSAGE! The Communicate Nature of Inappropriate Behavior in Learners with ASD. ASHA Presentation.
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