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Early Childhood Special Education Durand and Moskowitz research-article2015

569509TECXXX10.1177/0271121415569509Topics in Early Childhood Special EducationDurand and Moskowitz research-article2015


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Functional Communication Training: Thirty Years of Treating Challenging Behavior

Topics in Early Childhood Special Education 2015, Vol. 35(2) 116–126 © Hammill Institute on Disabilities 2015 Reprints and permissions: DOI: 10.1177/0271121415569509

V. Mark Durand, PhD1 and Lauren Moskowitz, PhD2

Abstract Thirty years ago, the first experimental demonstration was published showing that educators could improve significant challenging behavior in children with disabilities by replacing these behaviors with forms of communication that served the same purpose, a procedure called functional communication training (FCT). Since the publication of that paper, hundreds of demonstrations of the effectiveness of this approach have been published. This article describes the original study, the basic steps involved in using FCT, and how this approach can be used to reduce challenging behavior among toddlers and preschoolers.

Keywords functional communication training, challenging behavior, preschoolers, toddlers, positive behavior support

The concept is a deceptively simple one: Much of the mis- behavior seen in children can be viewed as a form of com- munication. Philosophers and others have for thousands of years used this metaphor to explain why young children cry and scream (e.g., Plato, 1960; Rousseau, 1762/1979). However, it wasn’t until relatively recently that serious research was conducted to discover if this concept could be used to actually improve the behavior of children. Three decades ago, a study published by one of us (V.M.D.) and the late Edward (Ted) Carr was the first to document how challenging behavior could be significantly improved by teaching children to use alternative communicative responses to these problem behaviors (Carr & Durand, 1985). The rationale used in the study was that if we could determine the “messages” of the children’s behavior prob- lems and teach them to communicate the same message more appropriately, their problem behavior would not be necessary and would be reduced.

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