Functional Communication Goals for Autism Success

Uncover functional communication goals for autism to bolster your child's speech and language development.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
July 8, 2024

Functional Communication Goals for Autism Success

Importance of Functional Communication

The importance of functional communication in individuals, specifically children with autism, cannot be understated. It plays a critical role in their ability to express their needs, wants, and engage socially.

Definition and Significance

Functional communication is defined as how a person independently communicates his/her wants and needs and socializes with others. This communication can occur through a variety of forms [1]. It refers to basic communication skills that help convey wants and needs, such as "I want that", "I am hurt", or "I need to use the bathroom". These are typically skills that emerge in the first year of life for most children, but for those with speech and language delays, including autism, it may develop much later [2].

Functional communication is crucial in various settings such as safety, school, workplace, social, and community settings, depending on the individual's needs and goals. The development of these skills is pivotal to an individual's ability to navigate the world around them effectively and independently.

Impact on Children with Autism

For children with autism, functional communication skills are especially important as they can significantly impact their experiences and interactions with the world around them. Inappropriate functional communication can ostracize children with autism and make them targets for bullying and exclusion [1].

However, with the right support and resources, these children can learn to communicate effectively. Functional communication goals for non-verbal students are essential and can be tailored to meet the individual needs and abilities of each student [1].

By setting and working towards functional communication goals for autism, parents, educators, and therapists can help children with autism improve their ability to express their needs, interact socially, and lead more fulfilling lives.

Setting Functional Communication Goals

Creating functional communication goals for children with autism helps to build a roadmap for therapeutic interventions. These goals are tailored to the individual needs and abilities of each child, offering specific targets for speech therapy, augmentative and alternative communication methods, and other interventions.

Tailoring Goals for Individual Needs

Functional communication goals for children with autism are essential and should be individualized based on the child's strengths, challenges, and needs. These goals are crucial in various settings such as safety, school, workplace, social, and community settings, depending on the individual's needs and goals. For example, a child may need to work on more receptive language skills before addressing expressive language skills.

Communication milestones, as defined by sources like LinguiSystems and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), provide a useful framework for setting these goals. A goal for a child might be to understand and respond to simple instructions or to express their needs and emotions appropriately.

For children who are non-speaking or have complex communication needs, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can be considered. AAC includes gestures, body language, sign language, picture communication, core communication boards, and voice-output devices. The goal of AAC is to bridge the gap between a child's present communication skills and the ability of others to understand them.

Speech Therapy Strategies

Speech therapists play a key role in helping children with autism achieve their functional communication goals. They employ a range of strategies, tailored to the child's individual needs, to help them improve their communication skills.

According to A Day In Our Shoes, speech therapists commonly target 10 functional communication goals in speech therapy, which can be refined to meet the student's needs. These goals might include improving a child's ability to:

  1. Request or reject items or activities
  2. Express personal preferences
  3. Ask and answer questions
  4. Communicate about past and future events
  5. Speak effectively in social situations
  6. Use and understand non-verbal communication cues
  7. Understand and follow directions
  8. Communicate effectively in academic or work settings
  9. Use assistive communication devices or strategies, if needed
  10. Develop self-advocacy skills

By setting clear, individualized functional communication goals for children with autism, parents and professionals can work together to help these children develop essential communication skills. This personalized approach ensures that each child receives the support and intervention they need to thrive.

Collaborative Approach to Intervention

A collaborative approach to interventions is a key component of creating functional communication goals for autism. This approach involves the concerted efforts of professionals, such as speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists, and families.

Involvement of Professionals and Families

The collaboration between professionals and families plays a crucial role in increasing the effectiveness of services for children on the autism spectrum [4]. By working together, professionals and families can tailor interventions to suit the child's unique needs and circumstances.

According to the NIDCD, workshops focused on children with ASD who have limited speech and language skills have led to groundbreaking articles and recommendations for evaluating language skills in children with ASD. These workshops signify the importance of professional involvement in creating and implementing functional communication goals for autism.

Furthermore, family-centered interventions have proven to lead to improved outcomes. Research shows that family involvement in therapy not only benefits the child, but also helps reduce the stress experienced by family members [4]. This highlights the importance of a family's active participation in the intervention process.

Multidisciplinary Interventions

Multidisciplinary interventions involve the integration of various therapeutic approaches to create a comprehensive treatment plan. This includes the use of high-leverage practices (HLPs) and evidence-based practices (EBPs).

In implementing EBPs, it's crucial to monitor the impact of the intervention on behavior and ensure it matches the needs of the child and the capabilities of the staff [5].

On the other hand, HLPs can include small-group instruction, functional behavior assessments, peer-assisted strategies, and organized and supportive learning environments [5].

High-Leverage Practices (HLPs) Evidence-Based Practices (EBPs)
Small-group instruction Monitor impact on behavior
Functional behavior assessments Match EBP to student and staff
Peer-assisted strategies Consistent implementation across settings
Organized and supportive learning environments Evaluate language skills in children with ASD

These multidisciplinary interventions, combined with the collaborative efforts of professionals and families, can contribute significantly to the successful creation and implementation of functional communication goals for children with autism. This comprehensive approach can help unlock their potential and support their journey towards improved communication skills.

Early Intervention for Optimal Outcomes

Early intervention plays a crucial role in enhancing the communication skills of children with autism. The sooner a child begins to receive support, the better the potential outcomes. This section will discuss the importance of early diagnosis and intervention, as well as the role of family participation in treatment.

Early Diagnosis and Intervention

In individuals with autism, an early diagnosis is considered optimal, leading to early intervention and improved quality of life for both the child and the family. Delayed language is one of the earliest signs of autism, and atypical play behaviors are hallmark characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) TherapyWorks.

Early intervention services like speech therapy and occupational therapy can help support autistic children by improving their language skills, social skills, and sensory processing abilities. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) supports research to improve the lives of people with ASD and their families, including workshops focused on children with ASD who have limited speech and language skills. These workshops have resulted in groundbreaking articles and recommendations for evaluating language skills in children with ASD NIDCD.

Family Participation in Treatment

Family involvement is a critical component of successful treatment for children with autism. Family participation during treatment sessions and carryover of functional communication goals for autism in daily life can improve a child's level of progress, as emphasized in research published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care TherapyWorks.

Family members, as constant figures in the child's life, can provide consistent reinforcement of learned skills. They can help the child practice these skills in various settings, leading to better generalization and adoption of the skills. Furthermore, family involvement ensures that the strategies and techniques being taught are suitable for the child's home environment and daily routines.

In conclusion, early diagnosis and intervention, backed by active family participation, can significantly improve the outcomes for a child with autism. It's essential to remember that each child is unique, and their treatment plan should be tailored to their individual needs. With the right support, children with autism can reach their full potential and lead fulfilling lives.

Evidence-Based Practices for ASD

To achieve functional communication goals for autism, it is crucial to utilize evidence-based practices (EBPs). These strategies have demonstrated effectiveness in teaching appropriate behaviors and skills while reducing inappropriate behavior among children with ASD.

Implementing Effective Strategies

The National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on Autism Spectrum Disorder has identified 27 evidence-based practices for enhancing outcomes for students with ASD. These practices are crucial for the successful pursuit of communication goals. They include strategies such as small-group instruction, functional behavior assessments, peer-assisted strategies, and creating organized and supportive learning environments. There is overlap between high-leverage practices (HLPs) and EBPs, such as the use of functional behavior assessment and peer-mediated strategies, which are key practices for both.

When implementing these strategies, it is essential to consider the match between the EBP and the student as well as the staff. Kara Hume and Ilene Schwartz emphasize the importance of implementing EBPs with fidelity, ensuring consistent application across different settings, people, and items for effective behavior change [5].

Monitoring and Evaluation

Once a strategy has been selected and implemented, it is crucial to evaluate its effectiveness. This is done by collecting data on the behavior to assess how the EBP is working for the individual student. The target behavior, which is the behavior the teacher wants to change, should be directly observable, measurable, and clearly defined. Defining behavior in this manner allows multiple professionals to observe and collect objective data on the behavior.

It is also crucial to determine whether the EBP was implemented with fidelity, especially if it was not effective for the student. Regular evaluations can help make necessary adjustments to the strategy, ensuring that it continues to contribute effectively towards achieving the functional communication goals for autism.

By implementing evidence-based practices and closely monitoring their impact, educators and parents can help children with autism develop functional communication skills, fostering their ability to express themselves and interact with the world around them.

Enhancing Communication Skills

Improving the communication skills of children with autism encompasses not only speech and language development but also the exploration of alternative communication methods. Given that functional communication—the ability to convey basic wants and needs—can often develop later in children with autism (Speech and Language Kids), focusing on these areas is crucial.

Speech and Language Development

Functional communication goals for autism encompass both receptive language (understanding) and expressive language (output) functional goals. These goals are specifically designed to help children with autism effectively communicate with others [2].

When teaching functional communication, it's essential to select new words to teach the child, starting with one or two highly compelling concepts. Modeling the new words for the child in various contexts and offering communication temptations to encourage the child to use the word are vital steps in the process. Patience is key in teaching functional communication skills to non-speaking children, and success in communication can lead to the expansion of communication skills.

Alternative Communication Methods

For non-speaking children, especially those with autism, alternative means of communication can significantly improve functional communication skills. These alternative methods can include gestures, sign language, picture exchange communication system (PECS), communication boards, voice-output devices, and eventually spoken speech. A speech-language pathologist is best suited to guide this process, helping identify the most suitable means of communication for the child.

Contrary to some beliefs, research indicates that augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) interventions do not inhibit speech production in non-speaking children, such as those with autism. Instead, AAC may support speech production, emphasizing the importance of using alternative means of communication to facilitate overall communication skills [2].

By focusing both on speech and language development and alternative communication methods, parents and professionals can help children with autism reach their functional communication goals, paving the way for more successful communication and interaction.