1. Autism
  2. Therapies Guide
  3. Therapy-based

Functional Communication Training (FCT)

At a glance: Functional Communication Training (FCT)
Type of therapy
Therapy-based
The claim
Improves communication and reduces difficult behaviour
Suitable for
Nonverbal children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who show difficult behaviour
Research rating
Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.
Some research shows positive effects, more research needed.
Time
Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration
10-20
Cost
Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week
$30-120

What is Functional Communication Training (FCT)?

Functional Communication Training (FCT) is a therapy that focuses on replacing difficult behaviour with more appropriate communication that achieves the same thing. FCT is often used in combination with other behavioural interventions.

FCT is also a major part of Positive Behaviour Support.

Who is Functional Communication Training (FCT) for?

Functional Communication Training (FCT) is designed for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who show difficult behaviour.

What is Functional Communication Training (FCT) used for?

Functional Communication Training (FCT) is used to identify the purpose of a difficult behaviour and to teach an easier, more appropriate way of communicating the same thing.

For example, a child might have a meltdown when he wants a toy but can’t ask for it. In FCT, the child would be taught how to ask for the toy in a more appropriate way – for example, using speech, sign language, gestures or pictures.

Where does Functional Communication Training (FCT) come from?

The first research in the area of functional communication was conducted in the 1980s in the United States.

Functional Communication Training (FCT) grew out of more traditional behavioural interventions. People receiving these older-style interventions tended to go back to behaving in difficult ways after the intervention. FCT was designed to achieve longer-term changes in behaviour.

What is the idea behind Functional Communication Training (FCT)?

Functional Communication Training (FCT) is based on learning theory and the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). Learning theory suggests that how people behave in a situation depends on their previous experiences of similar situations.

The idea behind FCT is that all behaviour, including difficult behaviour, might be a form of communication. An important principle of FCT is that you must teach a child another way to communicate before getting rid of a difficult behaviour, so the child doesn’t need the old behaviour anymore. Otherwise the child is left without either the old behaviour or a new one and has no way to communicate.

What does Functional Communication Training (FCT) involve?

The first step is a detailed functional assessment of the difficult behaviour.

The next step is starting intervention. This involves:

  • deciding on a more appropriate way for the child to communicate
  • systematically teaching the child the new communication skill
  • reinforcing the child’s behaviour whenever the child uses the new skill
  • ignoring the difficult behaviour whenever it happens
  • prompting or reminding the child to use the new skill when appropriate.

This approach can take a long time (perhaps weeks or months). It can be quite intensive to do, especially in the early stages.

Cost considerations

You need to pay a professional to conduct the assessment, plan the intervention and train you in how to do Functional Communication Training (FCT) at home. The cost varies depending on the type and experience of the professional you use.

This therapy might be covered for up to 20 sessions by Medicare. Whether the cost is covered will depend on the professional you consult.

Some private health care funds might also cover a portion of the consultation fee. This can be claimed immediately if the professional you consult has HICAPS.

Does Functional Communication Training (FCT) work?

High-quality research shows that when Functional Communication Training (FCT) is used as part of an overall behavioural intervention, it does reduce difficult behaviour over both the short and long term.

Even when FCT isn’t used as part of an overall behavioural intervention, research suggests that it still might work.

Research suggests that FCT can work better for children than adults.

Who practises Functional Communication Training (FCT)?

Some psychologists and speech pathologists are experienced in working with Functional Communication Training (FCT). You need to find out about the experience of the professionals you choose to work with.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

If your child is taking part in an intervention that uses Functional Communication Training (FCT), you’re heavily involved. The FCT therapist trains you to do the intervention with your child at home, and you do training sessions of 10-30 minutes each day with your child. You also have to reinforce the replacement behaviour throughout the day.

Where can you find a practitioner?

You can find practitioners by going to:

If you’re interested in Functional Communication Training (FCT), it’s a good idea to talk about it with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child’s options.

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Last updated or reviewed
01-08-2017

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