Writing Measurable and Appropriate IEP Goals for Social-Communication Issues

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Sue is enrolled in special education. Academically she is doing well: she is at grade level in reading skills and math is coming along. Her struggles are more in line with not knowing what to do during recess and less structured academic periods of the day. I’m told her Individualized Education Program (IEP) can include goals to help, but how?

Where do the goals which are included in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) come from?

How does the teacher decide what area to write a goal for?

How do you write a measurable goal?

These are very important questions and it is vital to be able to answer each of these questions to understand a child’s IEP program.

  • Goals do not come from the teacher’s curriculum book – entirely.
  • Goals do not come from parent’s desires and wishes – entirely.
  • Goals do not come from thin air – mostly.

Goals do come from evaluative measures.

The child’s strengths and needs are measured in various ways:

  • Formal testing
  • Informal testing
  • Curriculum reviews
  • Observations by teachers, parents and caretakers, etc.

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Our 11 year old daughter, Sue, is in 5th grade and is doing well in school academically. Her formal testing shows she has made progress in all academic areas. Her reading and math scores are at the 5th grade level; she completes homework assignments on time and they are done well. In her free time, she enjoys arts and crafts, particularly drawing. However, this is not the entire story about Sue; there is more to it. Sue struggles during recess and less structured periods of the day. She usually is found meandering through the playground during recess and sitting at the end of the cafeteria table, not chatting with anyone during lunch time. She is extremely shy, and says she would like to have a “friend” to spend time with during recess.

The school teachers and staff are especially thrilled about Sue’s academic progress. While this is all well and good, as parents we are troubled by her struggles with the less formal parts of her school day, and we don’t know how to address her social problems.

Here is an example of a measureable social goal for Sue:

Sue will increase her social communication skills by initiating interactions with her peers during unstructured times during the school day, as measured by the benchmarks below. Until Sue has mastered each skill, she would benefit from staff facilitation, guidance, practice, and modeling as appropriate.

  1. Given a pre-recess check-in with an adult, Sue will identify the classmates she would like to get to know and greet them independently with 80% success across 3 consecutive weeks during recess.
  2. During recess, Sue will initiate and begin a back and forth conversation exchange (for example, greeting and asking about a shared interest, such as a TV show, or asking if the peer enjoys crafts/art) with one of the previously identified classmates independently with 80% success across 3 consecutive weeks.
  3. Given a preferred craft activity, Sue will invite one of her new “friends” to join her in a shared favorite activity during recess. (For example, Sue will invite the friend to join her in making rainbow band bracelets or in drawing with sidewalk chalk in the designated area of the playground). Sue will participate in this activity with a peer for at least five minutes during recess with 80% success across 3 consecutive weeks.
  4. While engaged in a shared activity, Sue will comment, ask questions appropriate to the activity, and respond to questions or comments provided by the peer for 5 conversational turns with 80% success during recess across 3 consecutive weeks during recess.

In the specially designed instruction section of the IEP, it should be noted that Sue enjoys crafts and drawing.

The IEP should specify that an identified staff member (it may be the counselor, her teacher, a speech therapist, or the classroom aide) will regularly work with Sue at regularly scheduled times to plan and practice her skills (one – two times per week). They will role play, use scripts, and invite preselected peers to provide opportunities to practice social-communication interactions.

Sue’s IEP should specify how progress on the social-communication goal will be monitored. The IEP team may want to create a checklist for staff, which notes particular circumstances in which Sue is successful and those which were difficult. The IEP will specify how frequently Sue’s progress will be assessed. This will help the team answer questions, such as:  Is Sue meeting expectations? Is she able to be more independent and still remain successful? Is Sue ready to begin to generalize the social-communication skills to other settings outside of recess? Are the goals still appropriate for Sue?

This social-communication goal is written specifically for Sue, taking into account her strengths, wishes, and desires. Because it is known that Sue wants friends and that she enjoys crafts, Sue is likely to be highly motivated to participate in the success of this plan. Sue’s plan will not work for all other students, for example those who prefer to use the less structured times of the school day to regroup, without the pressure of socializing. Each student’s IEP needs to reflect the interests, needs, and desires of the individual student for which it is written.

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Last Updated: November 28, 2016

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.


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