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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

FCT: Tips and Strategies for Using Functional Communication Training

Functional communication training, or FCT, is a common intervention used to address both behavioral concerns and communication deficits. Functional communication training is an effective intervention with extensive research support.

Let’s review some tips on best practices and other important characteristics of using functional communication training.

Differential Reinforcement Procedure

FCT is a differential reinforcement procedure. Appropriate communication responses are reinforced while inappropriate communication responses are not reinforced.

The maladaptive behavior is addressed with the use of extinction.

FCT is thought to be the most common intervention used to address problem behavior.

Focus on the Function

Development of FCT interventions includes a functional analysis to identify reinforcers of problem behaviors, antecedents to problem behaviors, and establishing operations.

Within functional communication training, the identified reinforced response serves the same or a similar function that was served by the maladaptive behavior.

Generalization and Maintenance in FCT

To be most effective, the interventions identified within the functional communication training plan should be generalized across settings and people. Generalization and maintenance should be addressed as part of the FCT protocol.

Who can Benefit from FCT?

FCT has the most support for use with individuals with developmental disabilities, particularly with a focus on problem behavior reduction. However, research has also identified FCT being used with individuals with traumatic brain injury, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, speech or language delays, and autism spectrum disorder.

FCT has been used to address maladaptive behaviors including behavior such as aggression, self-injury, motor or vocal disruptions, ‘bizarre’ vocalizations, self-restraint, and inappropriate communication behaviors.

FCT can be used for a variety of maladaptive behaviors as well as for a variety of functions. FCT has been used to address behaviors maintained by the function of attention, access to preferred items, access to activities, escape from demands, and escape from aversive stimuli (such as loud noises or social interactions).

Identifying Replacement Responses

The response that is identified within functional communication training could be a vocal response, the use of a picture exchange system, sign language, displaying meaningful gestures, written responses, or the use of text to speech technology.

The topography of the communication response that is identified as a replacement for the maladaptive behavior or the undesired communication response should be based upon the response effort required of the individual to display that response, the ability of others in the individual’s daily life to interpret the communication response, and the individual’s current level of functioning and behavioral abilities.

Response Effort

It is important to try to select a replacement response that requires less effort on the learner’s part than the amount of effort it takes for the learner to engage in the problem behavior. This can be difficult to identify but is important to increase the likelihood that the individual will engage in the replacement response.

However, as the intervention progresses and the individual has more experience with the intervention protocol, increased response effort can be acceptable when it comes to the replacement communication behavior. This process may require prompts and other behavioral strategies to be used but, with the right methods, this process can lead to greater and more complex responding overall.

Other People Need to Understand

The new response being targeted should be likely to result in appropriate responding by people in the individual’s everyday life. For instance, people familiar and even people unfamiliar with the learner may be able to understand a voice output device (such as a communication app on an electronic device) more than they could understand randomly assigned gestures.

However, it is always important to consider the learner’s abilities as well as the preferences and resources of the learner’s caregivers or guardians.

If a learner has previously displayed a particular behavior, such as a sign for “all done,” or if the learner displays an appropriate communication behavior but just at a low rate, this type of behavior may be a recommended behavior to use as an initially identified replacement behavior.

Functional Communication Training

In summary, functional communication training can be a highly effective strategy for reducing maladaptive behaviors and increasing appropriate communication skills. Be sure to consider the function of the maladaptive behavior, identify appropriate replacement behaviors that require response effort that is less than or equal to the response effort of the maladaptive behavior, identify a communication topography that can be most easily understand by others, and encourage generalization and maintenance of the communication skills.


Tiger, J. H., Hanley, G. P., & Bruzek, J. (2008). Functional communication training: a review and practical guide. Behavior analysis in practice, 1(1), 16–23. doi:10.1007/BF03391716

FCT: Tips and Strategies for Using Functional Communication Training

Heather Gilmore, MSW, BCBA

Heather is a freelance writer, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and social worker. Heather takes interest in topics related to parenting, children, families, personal development, health and wellness, applied behavior analysis, as well as Autism, ADHD, Depression and Anxiety. Contact Heather if you would like to inquire about obtaining her freelance writing services. You can view more articles and resources from Heather at and email her at You can also advertise your autism services at one of Heather's websites: Heather is the developer of the "One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum."


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APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2020). FCT: Tips and Strategies for Using Functional Communication Training. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2020, from