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Parent-Implemented Functional Training in Autism Communication

Explore parent-implemented functional communication training to revolutionize autism communication at home.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
June 27, 2024
8 min read
min read

Understanding Functional Communication

Functional Communication Training (FCT) is an intervention strategy aimed at reducing problem behavior in individuals with developmental disabilities by teaching alternative, communicative responses.

Basics of Functional Communication

FCT was originally introduced by Carr and Durand in 1985 and has since been widely used to address various problem behaviors in children and adults with developmental disabilities or mental retardation. The behaviors addressed with FCT include aggression, self-injury, motor and vocal disruptions, bizarre vocalizations, stereotypy, inappropriate sexual behavior, self-restraint, and inappropriate communicative behaviors.

Functional Communication Training is particularly suited for treating problem behaviors maintained by social sources of reinforcement, such as attention, materials, escape from demands, and escape from aversive events. The treatment process involves identifying the reinforcer for the communicative response, selecting a communicative response topography, and establishing consequences for problem behavior. These consequences include reinforcement, extinction, and potentially punishment.

Studies on FCT have underscored the importance of implementing extinction for problem behavior to ensure successful treatment. FCT without extinction often fails to result in significant reductions in problem behavior, and adding a punishing consequence for problem behavior can enhance the efficacy of FCT with extinction [1].

Reinforcement for communicative responses in FCT is initially provided on a continuous reinforcement (CRF) schedule, but it needs to be systematically thinned to more manageable schedules to maintain treatment gains. Techniques for reinforcement thinning include introducing a time delay between the communicative response and reinforcement, establishing stimulus control of the communicative response, and being aware of the reemergence of problem behavior during the reinforcement thinning process [1].

Understanding the basics of FCT is a key step in implementing parent-implemented functional communication training. For more information on FCT and its relevance to autism, you can explore our articles on functional communication goals for autism and why is functional communication important?.

Importance of Parent-Implemented FCT

In the field of autism communication, parent-implemented Functional Communication Training (FCT) has carved a significant place for itself.

Efficacy of Parent-Implemented FCT

Research has consistently shown the effectiveness of parent-implemented FCT in reducing challenging behavior in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). According to a systematic review of 26 peer-reviewed studies, this method has not only proved effective in minimizing difficult behavior but has also shown maintenance and generalization to novel settings and implementers in some instances.

In a randomized controlled trial that compared the efficacy of FCT to "treatment as usual" for young children with ASD, it was found that FCT, when conducted by parents with training and real-time coaching provided by behavioral consultants using telehealth, achieved a mean reduction in problem behavior of 98%. This was in comparison to limited behavioral improvement in children receiving "treatment as usual" during a 12-week period. Additionally, social communication and task completion also improved significantly in the FCT group.

This evidence reaffirms the power of parent-implemented FCT in effectively managing the behavior of children with ASD. These findings also suggest that parents can be efficient implementers of FCT, especially when provided with appropriate training and support.

However, despite the effectiveness of parent-implemented FCT, few studies have reported fidelity data on how well parents implement FCT, and information regarding the sustained use of FCT by parents is limited. This underscores the importance of ongoing training and support for parents to ensure the continued efficacy of this approach.

The undeniable effectiveness of parent-implemented FCT underscores the need for more widespread adoption of this approach in managing challenging behavior in children with ASD. For more information on functional communication training, visit our section on what is functional communication training in ABA?.

Implementing Functional Communication Training

Implementing effective Functional Communication Training (FCT) involves a series of steps and techniques that are designed to reinforce positive behavior and reduce problematic behavior in individuals with autism. These methods are based on principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and have been shown to significantly improve communication skills.

Techniques for Implementing FCT

FCT begins by identifying the communicative response that will replace the problem behavior. This involves identifying the reinforcer for the communicative response and selecting a communicative response topography. The chosen response should be easy for the individual to perform and should result in the same desirable outcome as the problem behavior [1].

Once the communicative response has been identified and reinforced, it is important to manage the consequences of the problem behavior. This may involve reinforcement, extinction, and in some cases, punishment. Here, extinction refers to the withdrawal or withholding of the reinforcer following the problem behavior. Studies have shown that FCT without extinction often fails to result in significant reductions in problem behavior.

Reinforcement for the communicative responses in FCT is initially provided on a continuous reinforcement (CRF) schedule. However, to maintain treatment gains, reinforcement should be systematically thinned to more manageable schedules. Techniques for reinforcement thinning include introducing a time delay between the communicative response and reinforcement, establishing stimulus control of the communicative response, and being aware of the reemergence of problem behavior during the reinforcement thinning process.

In cases where extinction is not possible or ineffective, parameters of reinforcement should be adjusted to favor the communicative response, and punishment may be arranged for problem behavior to enhance the efficacy of FCT [1].

Implementing FCT is a dynamic process that requires ongoing monitoring and adjustments based on the individual's progress. It is important to regularly review and update the plan to ensure that it continues to meet the individual's needs and promote functional communication goals. For more information on functional communication goals for autism, please visit our article on functional communication goals for autism.

Challenges and Considerations

While the benefits of parent-implemented functional communication training (FCT) are significant, there are important challenges and considerations to bear in mind.

Fidelity of FCT Implementation

Implementing FCT with fidelity is crucial for its success. Despite the effectiveness of parent-implemented FCT, few studies have reported fidelity data on how well parents implement FCT. This underlines the need for tools and resources to support parents in implementing FCT with accuracy and consistency.

FCT interventions have been developed for individuals ranging from young children to adults, with the majority diagnosed with developmental disabilities or mental retardation. The problem behaviors addressed with FCT include aggression, self-injury, motor and vocal disruptions, bizarre vocalizations, stereotypy, inappropriate sexual behavior, self-restraint, and inappropriate communicative behaviors.

The treatment involves identifying the reinforcer for the communicative response, selecting a communicative response topography, and implementing consequences for problem behavior including reinforcement, extinction, and punishment. Studies on FCT have shown that implementing extinction for problem behavior is crucial for successful treatment. FCT without extinction often fails to result in significant reductions in problem behavior, and adding a punishing consequence for problem behavior can enhance the efficacy of FCT with extinction.

Sustainability of FCT by Parents

Another key consideration is the long-term sustainability of parent-implemented FCT. Social validity analysis revealed that while FCT is often implemented by natural change agents in typical settings, parent training is usually provided by professionals who are not typically accessible to parents.

This lack of accessibility suggests a need for further research in the areas of parent training and the long-term sustainability of parent-implemented FCT. Understanding how to sustain the implementation of FCT by parents over time is a critical area of focus, as the effectiveness of FCT in reducing problem behaviors and promoting functional communication is contingent on its consistent application.

For more information on functional communication goals for individuals with autism and how FCT can help achieve them, check out our article on functional communication goals for autism. You can also learn more about why functional communication is important in our article why is functional communication important?.

Enhancing FCT Effectiveness

To enhance the effectiveness of parent-implemented functional communication training (FCT), a strategic approach in reinforcement strategies and adjustment of reinforcement parameters is necessary. These aspects play a pivotal role in managing problem behaviors and promoting functional communication skills in individuals with autism.

Reinforcement Strategies in FCT

Reinforcement strategies form the core of FCT and are used to promote and encourage positive communicative responses. Problem behaviors addressed with FCT are often maintained by attention, materials, escape from demands, and escape from other aversive events. FCT is deemed suitable for a variety of problem behaviors maintained by social (positive or negative) sources of reinforcement [1].

The treatment involves identifying the reinforcer for the communicative response, selecting a communicative response topography, and implementing consequences for problem behavior including reinforcement, extinction, and punishment.

Studies have shown that implementing extinction for problem behavior is crucial for successful treatment. FCT without extinction often fails to result in significant reductions in problem behavior, and adding a punishing consequence for problem behavior can enhance the efficacy of FCT with extinction [1].

For a comprehensive understanding of functional communication training in applied behavior analysis (ABA), visit what is functional communication training in ABA?.

Adjustment of Reinforcement Parameters

The adjustment of reinforcement parameters is another important aspect of enhancing the effectiveness of FCT. FCT with extinction has been shown to be effective in reducing problem behavior, but in cases where extinction is not possible or ineffective, parameters of reinforcement should be adjusted to favor the communicative response.

Reinforcement for communicative responses in FCT is initially provided on a continuous reinforcement (CRF) schedule, but it needs to be systematically thinned to more manageable schedules to maintain treatment gains. Techniques for reinforcement thinning include introducing a time delay between the communicative response and reinforcement, establishing stimulus control of the communicative response, and being aware of the reemergence of problem behavior during the reinforcement thinning process [1].

By strategically applying reinforcement strategies and adjusting reinforcement parameters, parents can enhance the effectiveness of FCT in managing problem behaviors and promoting functional communication in individuals with autism. For a deeper understanding of the goals of functional communication, visit functional communication goals for autism.

Advancements in FCT

In the rapidly advancing world of technology, telehealth has become an increasingly used method to deliver healthcare services remotely. This has also impacted the field of autism intervention, particularly in the implementation of Functional Communication Training (FCT).

Telehealth for FCT Implementation

Parent-implemented FCT has shown significant promise in improving the communication skills and reducing problem behavior in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, access to in-person training and support can often be a challenge for many families. The advent of telehealth has provided a viable solution to this issue.

Through telehealth, parents can receive training and real-time coaching from behavioral consultants in the comfort of their own homes. This method of delivery not only reduces the barriers of distance and travel but also allows for increased flexibility and convenience for families. Furthermore, it enables parents to implement FCT in the child's natural environment, which can enhance the generalization of skills.

This method of delivery has been explored in a recent Randomized Controlled Trial, which compared treatment with FCT to "treatment as usual" for young children with ASD [3].

Results of FCT via Telehealth

The results of the study provided compelling evidence for the effectiveness of telehealth in delivering parent-implemented FCT. Specifically, FCT treatment via telehealth achieved a mean reduction in problem behavior of 98% compared to limited behavioral improvement in children receiving "treatment as usual" during a 12-week period. Social communication and task completion also improved significantly.

Furthermore, children with ASD and moderate to severe behavior problems showed a significant reduction in problem behavior with parent-implemented FCT using telehealth, while ongoing interventions typically did not produce the same results [3].

Intervention Type Mean Reduction in Problem Behavior
FCT via Telehealth 98%
Treatment as Usual Limited Improvement

This evidence highlights the potential of telehealth as a platform for delivering parent-implemented FCT for children with ASD. It also underscores the need for ongoing research and development in this area to further enhance the effectiveness of this intervention approach.

For more information about FCT, check out our articles on what is functional communication training in aba?, functional communication goals for autism, and why is functional communication important?.

References

[1]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2846575/

[2]: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29199433/

[3]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7572463/

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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