Functional Communication Goals

One of the biggest obstacles that some IEP students have is lack of appropriate, functional communication. A lack of functional communication is often one of the biggest barriers to independence.

From as early as possible, these skills should be practiced and encouraged. I remember a few months ago, I was assisting Kevin on to his special education van in the morning. There were 3 boys already on the van. That particular day, Kevin had a new toy with him, one that he hadn’t brought on the van before. (It’s a 40-minute ride, so they are allowed.)

functional communication goals

As soon as the boys saw the new toy, their AT devices all started going off at once, “I want. I want. I want.” It was really cute and funny. And, an example of appropriate functional communication.

Appropriate and Functional Communication

Pushing a button on your talker device to say “I want” is not only functional, but it’s also appropriate. Less appropriate would be one of the boys grabbing it out of Kevin’s hand.

Having inappropriate functional communication is one of those things that really ostracizes our kids and makes them targets for bullying and exclusion.

We went through a phase at meals, where if Kevin didn’t like what I served him, he would throw it on the floor. That is functional. Appropriate? Not so much.

But, we could use that information. We knew that he could distinguish between food he likes and food he dislikes, and he could demonstrate that dislike. Then we just had swap out the undesired behavior with a desired one.

What is Functional Communication?

Functional Communication is how a person independently communicates his/her wants and needs and socializes with others.

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This communication can occur through a variety of forms, including:

  • speech
  • picture exchange/PECS
  • gestures
  • sign language
  • assistive devices/assistive technology

I purposely left out methods of communication on this list. So when it says “Ask for an item….” how that “ask” happens is going to vary by child.

Eliminating Ableism from Functional Communication

I hesitantly put some of the goals on this list. Particularly some of the goals that say “respond appropriately.” I think we spend a TON of time teaching kids, particularly those with autism, how to communicate with others appropriately or what is socially acceptable.

We do not spend enough time expanding our definition of what is socially acceptable. And that can be very ableist.

Sometimes our kids (I know mine does!) makes noises or hand movements that most kids his age do not do. However, as long as he’s really not hurting anyone, I don’t stop it. When a person with autism is happy, it is ok to flap or let out a squeal of happiness.

We need to get better at teaching non-disabled students that the way some of their classmates communicate is different, but it’s not bad.

Back to the example above, the talking devices on the van. What would your non-disabled child do if a child approached him with a talker and it was saying “I want.” We need to teach NTs to respond appropriately too. Which doesn’t always happen.

A reminder that all IEP goals need to be plugged into the IEP Goal Formula to be quantified and therefore measurable. I specifically just listed a skill or task for the student to achieve.

IEP goal formula for special education

IEP Goals for Functional Communication

  1. Continue a behavior when praised, encouraged, and otherwise orally reinforced.
  2. Stop an undesirable or inappropriate behavior when asked or warned to do so.
  3. Respond appropriately to oral commands.
  4. Respond correctly to oral instructions.
  5. Obey the commands and instructions of others in emergency situations.
  6. Ask for clarification and further explanation when needed.
  7. Provides assistance to others who request it and ask for assistance when needed.
  8. Ask for desired object, toy or game and needed instructional materials and equipment.
  9. Reinforce peers and others who are performing or behaving in an appropriate or successful manner.
  10. Inform others when he or she is ill, not feeling well, or in pain.
  11. Indicates desire to free play and other activities, snack preferences, and food served at school breakfast and lunch.
  12. Deliver oral message to others.
  13. Identify desired objects from the school library and from a school or training-site store or commissary.
  14. Share his or her thoughts and feelings with others in simple conversational exchanges.
  15. Internalize and follow activity schedules and obey rules and regulations that have been discussed and described orally and behave accordingly.
  16. Use language courtesies.
  17. Apologize for accidental mishaps and inappropriate behavior.
  18. Join others in singing activities at parties and social events and during religious services, when appropriate.
  19. Request and follow directions and instructions and provide directions and instructions to others upon request.
  20. Seek and provide comfort, advice, guidance, and counsel.
  21. Express needs, feelings, and thoughts and respond appropriately to the expression of wants, feelings, and thoughts of others.
  22. Respond appropriately to oral directions and instructions given by work supervisors and ask for clarification and further explanation when needed.
  23. Continue a behavior when praised, encouraged, or otherwise orally reinforced and stop an undesirable or inappropriate behavior when asked or warned to do so.
  24. Provide assistance to supervisors and co-workers when appropriate and seek the assistance of co-workers and supervisors when needed.
  25. Internalize and follow work schedules and obey work rules and regulations.
  26. Ask for needed work materials and equipment when they are not readily available.
  27. Inform the appropriate individual when he or she will be late or will be absent for work.
  28. Transmit messages to co-workers and supervisors when asked to do so.
  29. Share his or her thoughts and feelings with co-workers in simple conversational exchanges and express to co-workers and supervisors any concerns or grievances about work conditions, including safety and health factors.
  30. Discuss salary, fringe benefits, promotion, and other work related matters with supervisors.
  31. Provide appropriate information, including work history and qualifications, to a prospective employer in a job interview.
  32. Follow instructions for playing with toys and indoor games.
  33. Follow instructions for engaging in outdoor games, sports, and physical fitness activities.
  34. Accept oral invitations form others to participate in various leisure-activities.
  35. Make plans, in concert with others, for various recreational activities.
  36. Invite family members, friends, and neighbors to join him or her in various leisure-time activities, including games and sports, entertainment and sports events, shopping, and social events.
  37. Engage in the communication involved in participating in various leisure-time events, for example, responding to and giving football play information, answering questions in a table game, or discussing items seen on a nature hike or walk.
  38. Purchase needed materials and equipment, including art-and-crafts, hobby, and sports equipment, clothing, and materials.
  39. Make the arrangements for specific recreational activities, including purchasing tickets to and making inquiries about and reservations for sports and diverse entertainment events.
  40.  Comprehend, internalize, and obey the regulations of public and private agencies in the community.
  41. Use a telephone to obtain help during an emergency.
  42. Seek the help of police, special police, and security guards during a potentially dangerous or life-threatening situation or when a crime is taking place or has taken place.
  43. Comprehend and internalize his or her rights as a citizen and special rights as a person with disabilities and make certain that he or she is not denied those rights.
  44. Make needed purchases of food; clothing and household linens; medicines, medications, vitamins, and minerals; grooming and personal hygiene materials and equipment; educational, assistive, and prosthetic devices; household cleaning and maintenance products and equipment; furniture, accessories, and appliances; cooking, serving, and eating utensils; entertainment and other recreational materials and equipment; indoor and outdoor plants; and pets and pet supplies.
  45. Contact and arrange for needed services, including medical and health services, non-health-related professional services (e.g., attorneys, counselors, and consumer advocates), repair persons, grooming and physical fitness services, and services from private and public agencies and companies.
  46. Engage in financial transactions with bank personnel.
  47. Rent or purchase suitable living quarters.
  48. Purchase needed insurance from insurance agents or agencies.
  49. Communicate with an appropriate individual for the purpose of completing relevant tax forms.
  50. Negotiate agreements and contractual relationships.
  51. Engage in an investment program with an appropriate investment adviser.
  52. Ask for and follow directions, while traveling in the community, relevant to various places of interest, including work sites, and to businesses and agencies when conducting personal business, whether walking (with or without assistive devices) or using public or private transportation.
  53. Ask for and follow directions to public restrooms, public telephones, drinking fountains, mailboxes, and other public conveniences.
  54. Seek the assistance, when needed, of transportation workers when using public and private transportation.
  55. Ask and follow directions to desired locations in various buildings (e.g., office buildings, museums, and flea markets) shopping centers and malls, and sports or entertainment arenas and stadiums.
  56. Provide directions and assistance to other travelers when requested.
  57. Plan with others for social, leisure, and vacation trips in the community and to other locations outside of his or her immediate community.