Communication and Behavior in Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder often have difficulties with social communication behaviors.

What causes problem behaviors?

Deficits in communication make it difficult for others in society to understand what the individual wants or needs. When individuals cannot communicate their wants or needs effectively, problem behaviors can arise. This can create a stressful situation for individuals and caregivers. Individuals with too few effective communication behaviors may engage in problem behavior to escape from undesired events or to get access to wanted items, activities, or attention (Drager, Light, & McNaughton, 2010).

Training to provide effective communication behaviors

Functional communication training has served as an effective intervention to increase individuals’ communication skills and decrease problem behavior (Durand & Merges, 2001). Communication training is a replacement for problem behaviors occurring when individuals cannot effectively communicate their wants and needs (Durand & Merges, 2001). Functional communication training works to teach an alternative behavior that serves the same function as the problem behavior (Drager, Light, & McNaughton, 2010). The alternative behavior is taught to decrease the problem behavior and open up the world of choice and communication.

Early intervention is key

Durand & Merges (2001) stress the importance of early intervention using functional communication training to reduce caregiver stressors. Deficits in individuals’ communication increase the likelihood of problem behavior and create a communication barrier with others in the environment (Drager, Light, & McNaughton, 2010). Increasing functional communication as early as possible will help individuals form meaningful connections with others and communicate within society.

Match training to the individual

It is important to note that not every individual may benefit from the same form of functional communication training. There are various forms of communication that an individual can use including PECS, AAC, vocalizations, ASL, etc. Before implementing functional communication training, a primary form of communication should be determined based on the learner’s skillset, current repertoire and what may be most easily learned and used by the individual (i.e., individuals with poor fine motor skills may not benefit from being taught ASL) (Shaw-Cosman, 2008). The form of communication identified as the best for the individual should then become the focus of functional communication training. When tailored to the skills and abilities of each individual, functional communication training is a critical intervention that may influence a positive change in an individual’s overall quality of life.

By: Ashley Varney, EKU graduate student in MS in Psychology, ABA concentration

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Durand, V. M., & Merges, E. (2001). Functional communication training: A contemporary behavior analytic intervention for problem behaviors. Focus on autism and other developmental disabilities16(2), 110-119.

Drager, K., Light, J., & McNaughton, D. (2010). Effects of AAC interventions on communication and language for young children with complex communication needs. Journal of pediatric rehabilitation medicine3(4), 303-310.

Shaw-Cosman, M. A. (2008). Critical review: Language outcomes for children with autism: A comparison between PECS and sign language.

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