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  • OOTKS Contributor

Functional Communication: Engaging with Our Community

Updated: Jul 3, 2023


Whether written, verbal, signed, or from a device, words have incredible power and can move others into action. In previous blogs, we have defined communication (Functional Communication: Building a World) and explored ways to motivate our children to make their method of communication functional at home (Functional Communication: Practicing at Home).

Our next goal is to further expand the parameters of our child's world to include their community. This can greatly enhance their overall development, inclusion, and long-term independence.

Prepare and Plan: Before venturing into the community, we can provide our child with information and expectations about the upcoming outing. We love visual supports such as social stories or visual schedules to help them understand what to expect and role-play how to communicate in different situations. Your BCBA and OOTKS team can help create and implement this plan so you don’t have to do it alone!

Gradual Exposure: Start with familiar community settings and gradually expose them to new environments. Begin with places they are comfortable with, such as a local park or library, and gradually expand to more challenging settings like restaurants, stores, or community events.

Supportive Communication Tools: Provide our children with supportive communication tools, such as visual aids, communication apps, or social scripts can set them up for great success. These tools can assist them in expressing their needs, asking questions, or initiating conversations in different community settings.

Model and Role Model: Model appropriate communication behaviors in various community settings. Let them observe how we communicate with others, including greetings, turn-taking, and asking for assistance. Additionally, seek out positive role models within the community who can demonstrate effective communication skills.

Community Support: Seek support from community members, neighbors, and local businesses. We can advocate and educate them about our child's communication needs and encourage their patience and understanding. The more supportive and accepting the community is, the more opportunities to practice and generalize communication skills.

Reinforcement and Positive Feedback: Reinforce and praise all efforts and progress in generalizing functional communication skills. Positive feedback and rewards can motivate and boost our child’s confidence as they navigate the community (and it makes it so much more fun!).

Reflect and Problem-Solve: Reflect on community experiences with your BCBA. Discuss any challenges or successes encountered and problem-solve together on how to approach similar situations in the future.

Gradual Independence: We want to gradually allow our child to take more independent roles in communication within the community. Encourage them to initiate interactions, ask for help, or make choices autonomously. This gradual shift towards independence will help them build confidence and further generalize their communication skills.

Remember, every child is unique, and progress may take time. Be patient and celebrate even small achievements along the way. These small achievements will be the motivational foundation for each child and family! With consistent practice and exposure, they can gradually generalize functional communication skills in the community, leading to increased independence and participation in various settings.

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