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Functional Communication in Everyday Life

April 8, 2021

You may have heard the term “functional communication” from your BCBA or technician working with your child. Functional communication is an important skill for many children with autism and it means communicating in an independent and spontaneous manner. An important functional communication skill is to teach children to ask for things when they need or want them. For example, when a child is hungry and wants an apple we must teach the child to communicate that in some way. Let’s use the apple example to look at how you can encourage functional communication throughout your child’s day. 

First, you probably know when your child is hungry because you know when he or she last ate; or they may indicate hunger by going into the kitchen, looking at food, or pulling you toward the place where apples are kept.  

When you have identified what your child wants, you should model saying the name of the item then ask him/her to repeat it. For example, you could say, “Apple, say ‘apple.”’ When your child says “apple” then give them the apple or a piece of apple. If you can give the item in small pieces, you can provide more practice by having them ask for each piece. After they have imitated you saying “apple” two or three times, then you can just look at them expectantly and/or show the apple to get them to ask for it. If he/she does not say “apple” in a couple seconds, go ahead and say it for them, as above.  

If your child uses sign language or pictures to communicate then have them sign or point to or touch the pictures on their communication device or communication book.