After Ms. Anna had given the class instructions to find a classmate and play a game to review the materials previously learned. She noticed everyone got up and found a friend, except Anthony. Anthony, who has autism spectrum disorder, struggles with social skills.
He just sat quietly and watched as everyone picked a friend. Ms. Anna went over to Anthony and asked if he needed help. But he said “no” and put his head on his desk.
The goal stated, “Anthony will talk to his peers.” What a broad goal, thought Ms. Anna. She had only known Anthony for a month but noticed he had some language delays and an inability to communicate effectively with peers.
She spent weeks preparing and supporting Anthony with functional communication training through visual cues and role modeling. Ms. Anna updated his language skills goal to be more functional. Anthony would learn to communicate with his peers, starting with a greeting.
Functional Communication Skills
We do it without thinking. Communicating comes naturally to us. We do not even have to think about how to order our favorite food or how to make a phone call because we have been doing these tasks in our everyday life for a long time.
However, have you ever stopped long enough to consider how we communicate with others? Think about how you hold a conversation on the phone, give effective directions, or verbally communicate how to complete something correctly.
Yes, I said “effective” because we all know at least someone who is not good with directions.
It might even be yourself.
There’s a lot that goes into how we communicate. How do you formulate a thought(s) in your head? Then how do you move that thought to your mouth? Food for thought, I’m sure.
For individuals with a disability, especially those with Autism, communication does not come easy. I’m sure most families with children with significant language impairments can attest to that statement and nod in agreement.
For autistic children, their minds are constantly on the move. It’s hard to say or write down an individual student’s needs when a never-ending playlist of stimuli competes with the child’s ability to communicate his needs effectively and clearly.
More often than not, I have seen numerous communication goals on a student’s IEP, some good and some exceedingly terrible. Sometimes, the goals are simple and basic; other times, communication goals can be functional.
What are Functional Skills?
Now, what exactly do I mean when I say “functional”? Great question.
When we consider something functional, we often think about skills or knowledge we have learned to help us in our daily lives as humans to be successful and independent. For example, eating, drinking, and socializing are all life skills we stress with our children and students.
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Communication is one of those hidden treasures we often forget because we have been communicating for years and forgot what it was like as young children to learn the sounds of letters, blends, final consonants, etc. So, when considering a functional IEP goal, consider what your child needs to know to be a successful citizen in his community.
Since we communicate all the time, verbally and non-verbally, we must teach our children and students how to communicate well because communicating with ourselves and others around us will determine how we establish relationships, obtain a job, and more. Every goal your child has should be working towards an overall goal to become an individual who is confident and independent in how life and systems work around him.
3 Examples of Functional Communication Goals For Autism
Now that I’ve talked your ear off let me provide some examples of what a functional communication goal might look like on your child’s IEP in special education. With many topics about communication, I will keep it simple and provide just a few so you can understand how it will look in different scenarios.
- Ordering food from a restaurant
- Greeting friends and family
- Conversations with others
#1 Ordering Food From a Restaurant
For the first goal, eating out is a fun and exciting time. Being able to order your own food is empowering. Individuals with Autism might not express their discomfort or dislike of someone ordering food for them. So providing them with these goals will help build confidence and strong self-esteem as they continue to grow and learn effective communication skills:
- Example 1: When given a visual menu (pictures and words) as well as the phrase “I would like to order” at the top of the menu, facing the restaurant employee, the student will independently verbalize “I would like to order____” for lunch from McDonald’s on 2 out of 3 opportunities per month.
- Example 2: When given an alternative communication device and visual menu with words and pictures, the student will type into the device “I would like to order ________” from Olive Garden on 1 out of 2 times per month with or without support.
#2 Greeting Family and Friends
Social communication is so important in language development. For the second topic, greeting family and friends, your student might see goals like this:
- Example 1: Given modeling, practice, and visual prompts, the student will greet a family member with a high-five, hug, eye contact, facial expressions, or handshake to communicate through nonverbal communication that they acknowledge that person near him six times per week.
- Example 2: Student will practice greeting a friend by identifying him in a crowd, walking up to the friend, using eye contact, and saying “Hello, how are you” on 4 out of 5 opportunities per week or whenever in a social situation.
#3 Conversations with Others
- Example 1: Given a social setting (i.e., classroom in a school setting) and conversational topics (i.e., animals, favorite foods, movies, etc.), student A will talk with a partner, Student B, about what he likes or dislikes about the topic, and provide 2-3 exchanges within the conversation with Student B for two times per week.
- Example 2: Student A will greet a peer and ask, “How are you today” or “Do you want to play a game with me” for 3 out of 4 times per week for the first quarter of the school year.
These goal examples of language activities should be as specific as possible to help your child or student with a disability begin to master how we communicate effectively with others in life.
Modifications and Accomodations
For the most part, these goals pertain to those individuals who can verbalize more. Still, you can always provide modifications and accommodations that will support successful communication skills in your students, such as:
- A picture card or picture cue
- Verbal prompts or verbal cue
- Voice-output devices
- Visual schedules
- Variety of settings
- Structured activity
Students should be presented with modifications that fit their personality and abilities first. When this is accomplished, each student will begin to understand who they are in society and how they can have an independent life through the power of communication.
Additional Resources for Parents of Autistic Children
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You might like to check out these articles next:
- 10 Strategies For Teaching Children With Autism
- Special Needs Tutoring For Autism
- Simple Sensory Activities For An Autistic Teenager
- What You Need to Know About Speech Therapy for Kids