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  • OOTKS Contributor

Functional Communication: Building a World

Updated: Dec 10, 2022

Children are some of the most amazing individuals I have ever had the pleasure of working with. They create these intricate and vivid worlds that we, as adults, can only dream of. When comfortable with someone, they willingly extend an invitation for us to come inside and take a peek. We contribute to their world through sharing decorations and tools that can enhance their creations. Their world may look a little different than we imagined, but they look to us for guidance on what to add and take away as they get older.


On the other side of this analogy, if we try to barge our way in, rearrange all of the furniture, and then tell them “It’s better for you this way”, we are met with immediate opposition. When we demand they behave, learn, and function the same way we do without any explanation, of course a negative reaction will ensue. As parents, we provide our children with the tools to be successful within society, but they aren’t going to inherently understand the importance of these tools right away. It is our job to teach them how and why. We do this by first coming down to their level, appreciating the world they have created, and meeting them where they are at so we can lead them to new and exciting opportunities they might not have thought of yet.


To better understand our children, we first need to establish communication. Defining this is the first step in our world-building journey. We will also be exploring various ways to better understand our children, contribute to their worlds, and create motivation to help them expand in upcoming blogs.

Communication: what an incredibly powerful tool that comes in so many different forms!


Let’s start with the basics:

1. What is communication?

Simply put, it is ANYTHING that gets your message across.


2. What does it look like?

Communication takes on a variety of forms within the realms of functional (pointing, looking, verbal, written, pictures, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), etc.) and maladaptive or non-functional (crying, tantrums, kicking, hitting, etc.).

3. Why do we need it?


We are social creatures by nature and need to be able to express ourselves to each other to get our needs and wants met. It is extremely frustrating when we are not understood. This is when severe negative behaviors can occur, replacing functional with non-functional expressions. We might see our children scream their demand, strike another, or tantrum until they are given access to what they desire. Crying works with newborn babies as their form of communication but doesn’t cut it when they transition into toddlers, children, and eventually adults. On a broader scale, we need to be able to grow outward from interactions with family and friends and start encompassing more from our community.


The home is a comfortable environment where we are relaxed and have more access to different parts of our brain. A child might be more carefree when communicating with parents, siblings, and other relatives that they see regularly. But as with adults, social interactions outside of the immediate home and family might be a cause for anxiety and discomfort. As we get nervous our higher functioning brain shuts down and it gets harder and harder to pull up information we know since that part of our brain isn’t working.


A child might be able to say “Want milk” while at home in a relaxed environment, but that doesn’t mean they can do it while at school talking to a cafeteria worker whom they’ve never met. This is where the concept of “generalization” is key. This means that a skill can be repeated by an individual across a variety of settings and people, so practice becomes essential.


There is so much that goes into the topic of communication and with each child being so unique, there will never be a “one size fits all”. This is why BCBAs at One of the Kids strive to create individualized programs and opportunities for each child and family to hone these skills in the home, clinic, and community environments.


Stay tuned for the next part in our world-building adventure of communication!

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