Challenges with Functional Communication

What is functional communication?

The purpose of communication is to be included with others and to learn. Usually, we don’t stop to think about how crucial clear and effective communication is to functioning in daily life. Functional communication is how one spontaneously and independently communicates their wants and needs. This can happen through speech, gestures, sign language or assistive devices. 

Challenges with functional communication

Children on the autism spectrum struggle with communication due to their delayed speech and language. They struggle to do this in a meaningful or effective way. A child could demonstrate the ability to use verbal language, yet be unable to use their words to ask for help when they need it. When a child is unable to communicate their needs, this may result in frustration or inappropriate behaviour. 

Not being able to tell others what you need or want can also interfere with communication in social and academic interactions. The child may find it difficult to tell their teacher they need to use the restroom, or ask for what they want to eat at a school canteen.

How speech and language therapists can help

Speech and language therapists can help children who are on the spectrum to develop their functional communication skills. Here are some examples of the areas they can work on:

  • Making requests, such as “I want, please, I need” etc 
  • Requesting to use the toilet
  • Understanding commands and instructions in an emergency situation
  • Being able to provide appropriate information about themselves, such as their name or their parents’ names
  • Initiating conversation or play with their peers
  • Ordering food at a restaurant

Ultimately, a child’s ability to participate in everyday activities successfully is perhaps the most important outcome of language intervention. If you have concerns regarding your child’s ability to communicate in a certain situation, be sure to discuss this with your child’s speech and language therapist.

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