Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Practicality: Setting Goals and Expectations

So here we are at the beginning of another school year. One of the hardest things that I have encountered over the years is the fact that so any teachers, administrators and therapists tend to have expectations of our children based upon their disability not upon who they happen to be. This is reflected not only in the classwork they are given but in the goals outlined in their IEPs.

In many ways this issue is fairly ironic, because in so many school systems our children's disabilities are not taken into account when their behaviors are dealt with, but only when their education is at stake. It is well documented that the zero-tolerance policies of most school districts falls heavily upon those with behavioral issues. Luckily for us, when these issues arose, (and they always do) we were able to work around the district's policy only because we had a high school vice-principal with a background in special education.

What I am going to do here is try to outline some ideas that you may use when creating goals and expectations  for your children. Furthermore, I am going to discuss how behavioral issues can be incorporated into their IEPs and how a functional behavioral assessment can actually outline how a school should deal with behavioral issues.


Goals are in the IEP in order to breakdown the areas in which your child needs support. These areas can be far reaching, like organizing a huge research report to even simple tasks, like hanging up their coat in their cubby.

Lets start with a basic homework goal for example: The first part of this task is to write down homework upon entering the classroom (hopefully the teacher will be proactive and have that night's homework already up on the whiteboard). Of course a different issue arises if the teacher waits and puts the homework assignment up at the end of class. It gives your child less time to respond and practice the goals. But the breakdown does remain the same.

Remember the point of goals is that at some point your child will become independent of support and be able to fend for themselves.  There should be a percentage that your child will do these tasks without prompting..the schools usually expect 80% efficiency.

1. Child will take out homework agenda.
2. Child will take out pencils/pens to use in writing down homework.
3. Child will write down the days homework from the whiteboard

Then before they leave class your child should be able to explain to the para/teacher what the homework entails. This includes understanding what they not only have to do, if it is writing or reading, but what materials need to be brought home to accomplish this task.

4. Child will be able to communicate what the homework happens to be.
5. Child will understand what the assignement entails.
6. Child will be able to identify what they need to bring home to accomplish the homework assignment.

At this point if your child doesn't understand the assignment the explanation should be written out in the agenda either by the child or by the teacher/para along with the list of necessary items to be brought home.

7. At end of day child will take out what they need to accomplish homework and put it in their backpack.
8. Child's backpack will be checked before they leave school to ensure that they have everything they need to do homework.

Every element for every task can be broken down into increments so that your child remembers and recognizes the steps it takes to be efficient and be able to become independent. Here is another:

Remembering math facts...(the different levels)

1. Child will be able to count to one hundred without prompting.
2. Child will be able to explain their ones, tens, hundreds and thousands.
3. Child will be able to add and subtract all math facts in conjunction with state standards.
4. Child will be able to preform multiplication and division within state standards.

For each math fact based goal there are breakdowns to make it less cumbersome for the child. Counting to one hundred, could be spaced out so that the child learns at a different pace, and the same with the other types of math facts that need to be learned.

Homework can also be tailored to help the child. Most children with disabilities get very overwhelmed with the amount of homework given on a daily basis in school. Example: if the class is to do ten math facts that evening, your child can be given half of that to do. If the class is to write two page essay, your child could be allowed to write a one page essay.

For many up until high school, homework amounts can be modified in the IEP. In New York they cannot modify highschool requirements if your child is to graduate with an academic/regents diploma. Check with your state what the graduation requirements are to see if even in high school they can be somewhat modified.

The goal of homework is to help your child work on the skills they have learned during the day in school. However, when there is a processing or learning  issue and it becomes painful to do huge amounts of homework, that needs to be acknowledged. Homework accessibility and follow through is something that can be learned over time and over years. It does not happen within a one yer span of time. Like everything else our children do, this is a learned skill something our children assimilate over their 12 years of schooling.  What this may mean, as we already know, is that they will learn at a slower pace then their peers, but it does NOT preclude them from learning. This is something that needs to be made terribly clear.

Learning disabilities or developmental disabilities does not preclude education, it just means learning differently that is all. This is also why it is extremely important that the IEP reflect all your child's deficits. (Yes I know its important that their positive aspects of who they are also be written into the IEP, but to garner the proper supports, the deficits must be made very very very clear.) The fact that the deficits are acknowledged and that there is a written plan on how to handle their educational issues is the purpose of the IEP.  In fact one of the most important and yet rarely talked about areas on the IEP is the "management" section.

This section outlines what has been done before to help and support your child and what may need to be done in the future. This includes a discussion of triggers, sensory issues and even one to one interactions. This section tells how things have been handled and what is the best way that your child has been made to feel comfortable and a positive learner. This lets teachers, paras, therapists know what has worked and how to help your child. This way in some respects your child does to have to start from scratch with a new teacher every year. This is one area of the IEP that could include information taken from the functional behavioral assessment (FBA).


In this regard you need to talk to the school about expectations. It is very important that the school understand that your child can and will accomplish the tasks set out for them, it just may take a little longer. The trick of course is to make sure that the school acknowledges that your child has potential and that they just need to work harder with them to get them to the same level as their peers.

Unfortunately, this may not be as easy as it sounds. and in some cases it takes a lawyer or advocate's intervention. Sadly many schools still see the disability first before they see the child and they come to your child's education with preconceived notions about what they can and cannot accomplish. We even faced that in college with CM1. That is when I did hire a lawyer and sent the disability office a thinly veiled threatening letter.

What they learned over the years is to not judge CM1 by his disability or his needs, but by his mind and his work ethic. Today he is well thought of by his professors and that is what counts in the end. In fact CM1'sintelligence is well known and very acknowledged now at his college. But I won't tell you it wasn't anxiety provoking at first, but as I always say, our family is "autism awareness" on a daily basis. So it is something we are used to.

I can tell you that we did not face the same questions about CM2's ability at all when he entered the same college as his brother. In fact just the opposite. Many of his professors had been CM1's professors and they expected a different child than what they got with CM2. What they learned is that CM1's work ethic and analytical ability is not tied to his autism but to whom he is as a person. A lesson for the professors and one for the school as well. As I have been saying, educators need to see the person not the disability first.

But in our situation everyone in the end was willing to learn and that is all that you can ask, isn't it?


One important and overlooked area of expectations is behavior. It is ironic that in many school districts the educational powers that be will not push our children to preform at their best academically but will demand perfection in behavior based disabilities. One way to help avoid this issue is to make sure that your child has a functional behavioral assessment. This assessment outlines what behavioral issues your child has and how they are to be handled. A FBA accomplishes several things:

1. Lets everyone know what triggers your child.
2. Tells people who are unfamiliar with your child how to help them.
3. Will explain accommodations needed for behavioral support and compliance.
4. Can outline "punishment" and its progression as well if rules are not followed. 
4. Holds the school to a level of competence and legal responsibility toward your child.

Now in many cases the FBA will NOT be added to the IEP per se but can be rewritten in as goals (as well as being part of the management section of the IEP as mentioned above). These goals should appear under social and emotional development. They can also come under speech and language therapy goals and OT and PT goals as well. (Yes all these goals should be in an IEP).

I understand that so many of these things are counterintuitive. How could your child not be expected to adhere to an academic standard but is expected to adhere to a behavioral standard?This makes absolutely no sense. In reality it is simply the path of least resistance. It is not easy to think outside the box and not easy to always come up with new and inventive ways to educate. But our children demand that right and quite frankly demand that respect. Furthermore, it is not hard to fashion a pro-disability policy when instituting a zero tolerance policy for children.

Honestly, the best way to do it, is to not have a zero tolerance policy at all. Every incident does not have the same underlying facts and every incident does not require the same punishment. In fact the inanity of the zero tolerance policy was shown by the district, which suspended a student for standing up for someone who was being bullied (see the link above dealing with zero tolerance policy). Nothing can show the laziness of a zero tolerance policy more than that story....OK the times when districts suspended or cause trouble for autistic children because they meltdown or have issues especially when the teacher instigates these issues could also be a reason for elimination of a zero tolerance policy too.

The truth of the matter is that we as parents need to advocate on so many levels for our children. It only begins when we try to get our children designated and start the process of an IEP and a FBA. I would say in fact that getting these documents is the easy part. Reminding people that your child should be seen first as a student, and then as a student with a disability,  is the real challenge. No it is not easy, I won't lie to you, but it can be done...I know it can because I did it and I have no special magic wand just the determination that all autism-warrior-parents channel.

Until next time,