Functional Communication

What is Functional Communication?

Functional communication refers to the most basic of communication skills.  This type of communication gets one’s basic wants and needs known, such as “I want that”, “I am hurt”, or “I need to use the bathroom”.  These are not complex thoughts and they are often the first types of messages that children begin to communicate.

For most children, functional communication begins to emerge in the first year of life with gestures and is expanded on in the following years with words and later, simple sentences.  However, for children with speech and language delays, this may happen much later.  Children with significant language impairments may still be working on obtaining functional communication when they are much older.

Who Needs to Work on Functional Communication?

Any child who struggles to get his basic wants and needs met by communicating those needs to others would benefit from working on functional communication.  This may be a child who is non-verbal (or who doesn’t speak yet) or who simply does not have enough words to get their message across.  Sometimes, a child may have such poor speech production that they are trying to speak but cannot be understood.  These children also need to be taught to use a functional communication system of some kind to reduce frustration and provide them an alternative means of communicating.