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Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports

June 6, 2016 3:00 pm Published by

As we continue to review the essential components of Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS), this post is dedicated to the review of Functional Communication Training (FCT). In order to understand the importance of FCT, a quick review of PBIS is outlined below.

What is PBIS and why do the QSAC Day School and Preschool programs use it?

PBIS is implemented in school settings as a decision-making framework, not a curriculum. As a decision-making framework, PBIS defines expectations for both student and staff behavior and conduct. The goals of PBIS are to ensure that all students have access to the most effective and accurately implemented instructional and behavioral practices and interventions possible in order to improve academic and behavioral outcomes. Some of the outcomes associated with schools that utilize PBIS are less reactive, aversive, dangerous, and exclusionary situations for both staff and students. Management issues can be addressed in the classroom as well as improving supports for students whose behaviors require more specialized assistance (e.g., FBA, BIP), thereby maximizing student academic engagement and achievement (Horner, Sugai, Todd, & Lewis-Palmer, 2005) How is this done? Prevention is where it all begins. For many of our students prevention begins with FCT.

FCT is required to replace problem behavior that has a communicative intent. In order to decrease the use of problem behavior as a means to communicate, replacement behaviors that serve the same communicative function as the problem behavior are needed (Carr & Durand, 1985). For example, a student may engage in problem behavior to get access to an item he/she wants, leave an activity, gain attention, or tell us about discomfort or illness. /\We present this to families and instructional staff by asking: can your student(s)/child make his/her most basic wants and needs known to anyone who is “listening,” in the absence of problem behavior? If the answer is no, then we will work on FCT. In our schools, FCT consists of of intensive mand/request training (Greer & Ross, 2004; Sundberg & Partington, 1994). Depending on the student, his/her abilities, and the manner (topography) in which he/she communicates, our goal is to offer many (even hundreds) of opportunities a day to practice asking for items/activities/access. What does this have to do with PBIS?

In PBIS students can be provided with 3 levels of support: Primary (school/class wide supports), secondary (for smaller, at risk groups of students) and tertiary (specialized individual supports). FCT would fall within the secondary and certainly tertiary supports. Based on assessment and data, students in our schools have instructional goals to increase their ability to communicate more effectively and efficiently. As we know from the behavior analytic literature on FCT, the ability to communicate decreases problem behavior (Carr & Durand, 1985). Some of our students require that a large portion of their daily instruction be FCT. By increasing our students’ abilities to ask for what they want and need, we are better preparing our students to receive and benefit from learning opportunities. Think about how motivated you would be to come to work if you couldn’t ask for a day off, find out when your pay check was arriving, or even order your lunch.

In both QSAC schools, FCT is used as a secondary and tertiary support and is an essential part of daily instruction. By spending more time teaching functional communication, we strive to spend less time managing problem behavior; this falls in line with the definition of PBIS.


GFelicianoBlogGina Feliciano is the Senior Director of Education Services; prior to that Gina served as the Director of the Preschool. Gina is responsible for the overall operation of the preschool and day school. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (Doctoral level) as well as a certified New York State Special Education Teacher and School Administrator.

Gina received her Doctorate from Columbia University in Special Education and Behavior Disorders in 2006.

Her previous professional experience includes being appointed as Director of Clinical Services, Director of ABA services and years training staff and education professionals as a Behavioral Consultant.

Gina has held academic positions as an adjunct professor at Hunter College, Pace University and Queens College teaching courses on behavior management, classroom management and education psychology.




Carr, E. G., & Durand, V. M. (1985). Reducing behavior problems through functional communication training. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 18(2), 111-126. doi:

Greer, R. D. (1987). A manual of teaching operations for verbal behavior. Yonkers, NY: CABAS and The Fred S. Keller School.

Greer, R. D., & Ross, D. E. (2004). Verbal behavior analysis: A program of research in the induction and expansion of complex verbal behavior. Journal of Early and Intensive Behavior Intervention1(2), 141.

Horner, R.H., Sugai, G., Todd, A.W., & Lewis-Palmer, T. (2005). School-wide positive behavior support. In L. Bambara & L. Kern (Eds.) Individualized supports for students with problem behaviors: Designing positive behavior plans. (pp. 359-390) New York: Guilford Press.

Sundberg, M. L., & Partington, J.W. (1998). Teaching language to children with autism or other developmental disabilities. Danville, CA: Behavior Analysts, Inc.



QSAC is a New York City and Long Island based nonprofit that supports children and adults with autism, together with their families, in achieving greater independence, realizing their future potential, and contributing to their communities in a meaningful way by offering person-centered services.

QSAC pursues this mission through direct services that provide a supportive and individualized setting for children and adults with autism to improve their communication, socialization, academic, and functional skills.