10 Achievable IEP Goals for Autism With Action Steps

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is an educational plan written to support students with learning disabilities. These documents include goals for the student to work towards during the academic year, as well as what supports are needed to meet these goals. For an IEP to be effective and meaningful, a team of professionals works with families to create highly individualized goals for the student. Here, we will discuss the importance of IEP goals, how to write a strong IEP, who should be involved, and how to track progress to ensure the goals are being met.

Understanding Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)

An IEP is a personalized plan developed for students with disabilities, including autism. IEPs are part of the Disabilities Education Act to help protect and support students who are struggling educationally. An IEP should cover all aspects of the student’s special education program, including educational goals, supports, and services that the student will need to help them achieve these objectives.

IEPs are created for each student and should be tailored to highlight their learning gaps, skills, and learning styles. IEPs are created through a collaborative effort involving teachers, parents, special education professionals, and other relevant educational team members. This multidisciplinary team works together to develop the goals and strategies for the student, and each member provides a unique insight and perspective. If possible, the student should participate in the IEP process to allow them to self-advocate, identify their areas of improvement, and help with goal creation.

The Importance of IEPs for Students with Autism

Students with autism can learn and acquire new skills but need specific support to help them learn. IEPs cover academic, social, and behavioral concerns and gross and fine motor skills. A lack of IEP is not only against the law but will result in the child falling further behind in their education and likely increasing challenging behaviors.

As autism is a spectrum condition, it affects each student differently and will impact their learning in individual ways. As such, the IEP should be tailored to each individual, including their unique set of challenges and strengths, as well as the child’s learning style, sensory sensitivities, supports, likes, dislikes, etc. As IEPs are so individualized, having parents collaborate and work jointly with educators is essential to help create the most effective IEPs, as they can provide their unique insight.

Setting Effective IEP Goals

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Key Considerations for Setting IEP Goals

When creating an IEP, the team should begin to evaluate and examine previous documentation to assess the student’s current level of achievement. Previous goals that have been met and have been successful, as well as those areas in which the student is struggling, should be reviewed. The areas where the student has made strong progress would indicate that the student can move on and learn new skills. Where the student is stuck or not progressing, there should be an analysis to identify where the skill breakdown occurs to address this in the following IEP.

Furthermore, the student’s learning style should be included and considered throughout. This includes whether the student is a visual learner, kinaesthetic, auditory, or reading/writing. Goals and materials should be made with this in mind to help the student learn these new skills. Moreover, how frequently a student needs breaks and what type of breaks, such as movement breaks, quiet time, etc, should be considered and included.

Finally, the student’s communication needs should be assessed and targeted in the IEP. For example, the IEP should include whether the student is vocal or requires an Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) device, visual supports to help with communication, or any speech impediments with which they need extra support.

SMART Goals

For IEP goals to be effective, there are 4 dimensions that each goal should cover. That is, goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

If a goal is specific, that means it is objective, clearly explained, and concrete. A goal must be specific so that every person who reads the IEP understands the goal and how to implement it.

For a goal to be measurable, it must be defined. For example, a reading goal may contain how many words the child is expected to learn, whereas an attending goal may include how many minutes the child is expected to be on task.

Achievable goals state that the targets need to be realistic and reasonable. That is, goals should be challenging so the student is being pushed, but should also be a goal that the student should be able to master by the end of the year. The goals should not be too difficult or too easy.

For an IEP goal to be relevant, it should be specific to that student and whether or not that skill has any significance for that student’s life. For example, for a cooking-related goal, teaching a student who dislikes coffee how to prepare a cup of coffee would not be a relevant goal, as he will never use this skill outside of class. However, if they like hot chocolate, targeting how to make this would be relevant as it’s important to the student and has an application to his life.

Time-bound goals relate to there being a clear beginning and end. This could be both short-term and long-term. For example, a dressing goal that would be time-bound may specify that a student needs to change clothes within 5 minutes. A long-term goal will typically go from the beginning to the end of the school year.

Essential Areas to Address in IEP Goals

Depending on the student, different areas of an IEP will receive more or less emphasis. However, an IEP must cover key areas to help develop skills and support the student across numerous areas. After an assessment, an IEP will be developed that targets communication skills, social skills, academic skills, and behavior and emotional regulation.

In the communication domain, the IEP will have goals related to social, expressive, and pragmatic communication. As mentioned, the communication modality will be considered, and there will be goals to target this specific communication type. For social skills, the domain will cover peer goals and group goals. The academic domain will cover most academic subjects, with goals tailored specifically for that child’s level. Behavior and emotional regulation domains typically cover the challenging behaviors that have been targeted for reduction and the alternatives that will be taught in their place.

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Developing Academic Skills

Improving Reading and Writing Abilities

Reading and writing goals are essential goals for students with autism. Words are everywhere, and being able to read and understand words opens up opportunities for communication, artistic expression, following recipes, directions, schedules, etc. Reading and writing skills are also the foundational blocks to build more complex academic skills.

IEP assessments should identify the student’s current level and learning style. The goals should be achievable and challenging and broken down into smaller, more digestible chunks to help the student succeed and build confidence.

Enhancing Math and Problem-Solving Skills

Math and problem-solving skills are another crucial aspect of IEP goals for students with autism. Developing these skills is useful to build upon more complex academic skills and help solve real-life problems. This domain should typically cover mathematical operations, fluency, problem-solving, and reasoning.

The IEP goals should help students develop problem-solving strategies and build confidence in their mathematical abilities. The areas in which there are breakdowns in skill acquisition should be identified, and bridges should be built to help the student be successful.

Academic Skills Development

Academic skills development is a vital component of IEP goals for students with autism. In addition to reading, writing, and math, academic domains also cover social sciences, technology skills, and spelling. Goals should be socially significant to students, meaning they apply to their everyday lives. In this way, the academic skills taught will help develop the student’s critical thinking skills and generalize their knowledge to different people and environments.

Communication and Social Skills Development

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Developing Communication Skills

Communication deficits are one of the key characteristics of autism. As such, targeting communication is fundamental for students with autism. This is typically done by helping to develop expressive, receptive, and pragmatic language as well as vocabulary development and functional communication.

IEP goals in the communication domain should target the student’s ability to express themselves, their comprehension, and their capacity to engage in meaningful conversations. For this, the goals need to be highly individualized and specific to match the communication type of the student as well as their current level of independence.

Enhancing Social Skills and Interactions

Social skills are another area in which students with autism tend to struggle. Therefore, enhancing social skills and interactions should be incorporated into an IEP for students with autism. Teaching these abilities can positively impact all areas of their lives, such as making friends, improving family relations, and helping with acquiring and maintaining a job.

Depending on the child, useful goals include friendship skills, conflict resolution, conversation skills, perspective-taking, turn-taking, and sharing. Working on goals like these can help students develop appropriate behaviors, navigate social situations, and build relationships. These goals can be targeted in structured and naturally occurring situations to help aid with generalization.

Expressive Language Skills

Expressive communication is essential for a child to communicate their basic needs. Students need to be able to communicate their feelings, ideas, and thoughts as well as request what they need, such as breaks, movement, water, snacks, etc. If the student can meet their needs, they will be more open to the learning process and can acquire new skills faster.

The IEP should have goals specifically targeting expressive language skills. There are different modalities of communication, such as speech, AAC, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), pointing, etc. The IEP goals should be specific and individualized to the student and target all the student’s communication types.

Behavior and Emotional Regulation

Managing Challenging Behaviors

Managing challenging behaviors is a vital aspect of IEP goals for students with autism. When selecting which behaviors to target for reduction, the team should choose behaviors that interfere with the child’s ability to learn and integrate into a less restrictive environment.

To reduce these challenging behaviors, IEP goals should focus on teaching the students functional alternatives that they can utilize to meet their needs. Furthermore, interventions should try positive reinforcement techniques to empower and motivate students. Punishment techniques should only be implemented as a last resort and with permission from parents.

Promoting Emotional Regulation and Self-Control

Learning about emotional regulation and self-control is essential for students with autism to build positive social relationships and thrive in an academic setting. Here, it is useful to collaborate with occupational therapists to develop strategies to address any sensory deficits or issues affecting a student’s self-regulating ability.

IEP goals should help students identify their feelings and teach them skills that they can use to regulate themselves when they feel different emotions. Collaborating with families is important here so the student can use the same coping strategies both at home and at school.

Independence and Life Skills Development

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Encouraging Independence in Daily Activities

Teaching life skills that will help students live more independently and productively should be an integral part of an IEP. Skills covered in this domain could include personal hygiene, dressing, cooking, chores, purchasing skills, etc.

IEP goals should target these skills with careful consideration for increasing independence. Again, collaboration with caregivers and home teams is key here to ensure the student is learning the skills similarly and promote generalization across people and environments.

Promoting Life Skills for Future Success

For teenagers, practicing and learning vocational skills at school can help them transition into the workforce and adulthood. Here, the student’s likes and strengths should be considered when deciding what jobs and skills to teach. Students should be involved in the selection process by suggesting their ideas, as well as giving feedback about whether or not they enjoyed a particular task.

The goals should help students to apply for and hold employment. For example, useful skills could be learning to fill out an application form, filing paperwork, transcribing information, making materials for other teachers, etc.

Collaborating with the IEP Team

Parents’ Role in Developing IEP Goals

Parents are an integral part of the IEP development team as they can offer valuable insight into their child’s strengths and weaknesses and whether the skills the child is learning at school are being generalized to the home setting.

Collaborating with Teachers and Therapists

Collaboration between parents, teachers, and therapists is essential during the IEP creation and implementation. Teachers and therapists can bring their expertise and experience to the table, using their assessment results and their knowledge of the students in the classroom. Parents can offer invaluable advice on how the child behaves at home and can help suggest meaningful and socially significant goals. Including parents in the IEP process also increases the chances of their buy-in, which means they are more likely to work on and carry through on the goals at home.

Monitoring and Reviewing Progress

Throughout the year, the student’s progress should be monitored to ensure they are on track toward meeting the IEP goals. If the student is not progressing, the team should examine the goal and how it’s being taught and make appropriate adjustments. For example, the goal may need to be broken down into smaller components, more prompts may be necessary, or materials may need to be modified. Teachers should also check in with parents regularly to assess whether the student is progressing at home. These check-ins can help highlight whether there is a generalization of skills or whether more parent training should occur.

Data and documentation on what is successful in teaching the student should be taken and graphed regularly. Having this data and information will help guide the next IEP, as the team will be aware of what supports are needed for the student to learn effectively.

Implementing and Evaluating IEP Goals

Individualized Instruction and Accommodations

Individualized instruction and accommodations are crucial for the successful implementation of IEP goals. This means every IEP should be different and specific to meet the learning needs of the child. Teachers should rely on past data documentation and information from parents and home therapists to create an individualized education program to collect a full picture of the child’s needs.

Once the IEP goals are selected, teachers should also consider the student’s accommodations, such as break frequency and length, movement breaks, visual supports, communication accommodations, etc. Having these in place will help support the student’s education and learning.

Conclusion

Mastering IEP Goals for Autism: A Key to Success

Helping students with autism master their IEP goals is a crucial aspect of supporting them and maximizing their potential for success. This helps build their confidence and independence and sets them up for success in their educational journey by helping them master the building blocks to greater and more complex skills.

Working together, parents, educators, and therapists can create meaningful and effective IEP goals that promote the child’s growth and development. Using a collaborative process, students are more likely to show powerful change across multiple environments, including school, home, and the community.

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