Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Spring 2010

Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Creating Measurable and Achievable IEP Goals for Children with Autism

By Vincent J. LaMarca, M.A., BCBA
Lovaas Institute – Indianapolis

The April 2007 issue of Meeting Point discussed some common requests from parents who have attended IEP meetings. One of the requests was for clear, measurable IEP objectives. While this may seem obvious, writing IEP goals for children with autism can present some unique challenges. For example, many children with autism demonstrate difficulty with generalization. They may be able to identify one picture of a dog but not other pictures of dogs. If the IEP includes an objective that the child will identify 10 new labels, does the child's ability to identify one picture of a dog count towards mastery of the goal or not? Children with autism also exhibit delays in language. If the IEP includes an objective that the child will demonstrate reading comprehension by answering who, what and where questions, will questions only be asked about people, places, and things that are already familiar to the child?

Below are two examples of general IEP objectives. By answering a few key questions, these objectives can be written to specifically address the desired response and goal. These questions include:

  1. What kind of behavior am I teaching: receptive response, expressive response, form of requesting, etc.?
  2. What type of stimuli will be used in teaching: pictures, objects, another person, the child?
  3. What type of response am I expecting: a learned response, a generalized response, a spontaneous response?

Example 1: Bryce will identify actions 80% of the time.

  1. What kind of behavior will be taught? Is this a receptive response? Will Bryce be shown pictures and asked, "Point to the boy who's jumping." Is this an expressive response? Will Bryce be shown pictures and asked, "What's the boy doing?" Is the format completely different? For example, will Bryce be taught to request for specific actions (e.g., pour, spin, open, etc.)?
  2. What type of stimuli will be used in teaching? Besides looking at pictures in books, Bryce may be required to identify actions he performs or recall actions others perform. Rather than point to a picture in a book, he may be required to make a toy character perform an action.
  3. What type of response is expected? Is the goal to introduce him to 10-15 action pictures or to teach him to identify the same action in any picture? Should he identify actions he performs when asked a question or should he spontaneously talk about what he is doing?

Answers to the above questions can lead to a wide variety of specific objectives. In each of the rewritten versions below, I have underlined several key words that demonstrate my answers.

REWRITE: Bryce will receptively identify 20 actions 80% of the time, using specific picture cards in a field of 6 pictures.
REWRITE: Bryce will expressively identify the action when shown a novel picture of each action, for a total of 10 actions.
REWRITE: At least once a day, Bryce will spontaneously identify an action that he is performing (e.g., "I'm eating..." during lunchtime, "I colored my...." during arts and crafts, etc.).
REWRITE: Bryce will make a spontaneous verbal request for 2 new actions at least once a week (e.g., "up," "push," "spin," etc.).

Example 2: TJ will answer who, what and where questions 80% of the time.

  1. What kind of behavior will be taught? Will TJ be required to answer basic functional social questions (e.g., "What's your name?" "Who is your teacher?")? Will he be required to discriminate between the different questions (e.g., "What color is the ball?" "Where is the ball?" "What is the ball for?")? Will he be required to answer questions from a book or story he just heard (e.g., "Who went to the store? What did they buy?")?
  2. What type of stimuli will be used in teaching? Will he be looking at a picture, an object, in a book, or will no visual stimuli be used?
  3. What type of response is expected? Is he going to learn rote responses or will some form of generalization take place? Will familiar objects and pictures be used or will novel questions be asked?

    REWRITE: TJ will answer 10 specific who, what, and where social questions.
    REWRITE: TJ will discriminate between 4 factual who, what, and where questions (e.g., "Who is it?" "What color is the ball?" "Where is the apple?" "What is the boy doing?") when shown pictures in books of familiar objects.
    REWRITE: TJ will answer 5 who, what, and where questions (e.g., "Who ate the apple?" "What did the boy eat?" "What color was the apple?" "Where did the boy go?" "Who went to the store?") in the following format: The teacher will tell a short story while acting it out with characters and objects. The teacher will then ask questions with the characters and objects still present on the table.

The ambiguity of the English language, as well as specific deficits in children with autism, can make it difficult to clearly write exactly what IEP objective is desired for the coming school year. Thinking about the behavior, stimuli, and type of response required of a child can help you clarify the objective as you write. Another way to clarify what the IEP objective specifies is to give parents an example of how the objective will be taught or tested. The more specific the objective and the more information shared with everyone responsible for meeting the goal, the more likely everyone will have the same expectations for the coming year.

Do you have an experience with a creative format to typical programming? Share them with us here

The names of all children in this newsletter have been changed in respect for family confidentiality.


Aladdin's Magic Carpet! Put the child on a towel or blanket and pull them across the floor.

Jump! Sing, "Jump" by Van Halen and jump when the song tells you to.

I'm Shocked! Fall completely over with surprise and shock that the child answered the question correctly.

Car Ride! Line your chairs up next to each other and go for a car ride. Put seat belts on. Check left and right for traffic, beep the horn, etc.

Monster Palm! Draw a monster on your palm. Use the other hand to hold the wrist of monster palm so it can't get you. However, we all know a monster palm is stronger. Elicit the child's help to get rid of monster palm.




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