For many speech-language pathologists (myself included), it is that time of year again! Time to write goals for our students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Or perhaps you are working in a private practice and just received a new client on your caseload. Or maybe you are a graduate student who is writing goals for your first client in your university clinic. Regardless, it is an essential piece of what we do and is the foundation for the way we target our clinical objectives.
Parents - listen up! Learning about speech therapy goals isn’t just for clinicians. We want this to be helpful for you too. The better your child’s speech therapy goals are written, the clearer the expectation for skill development is. What does that mean? Well, their goals should explicitly outline the skill area that should be worked on and exactly how it will be worked on. Goals hold everyone on the client’s team ACCOUNTABLE!
Any who, this daunting saga of goal writing usually occurs in the spring so that clinicians have adequate time to deliver informal/formal language assessments, observations, etc. before the school year concludes. This process of gathering information is very important so that clinicians have accumulated enough evidenced-based data for your goal framework. It usually looks like this:
Talk to the people who matter to the client
The best way to look at it is to think about who truly knows the child. Who can deliver the most accurate information to give you the best “picture” of their skills? The parents/caregivers may be the most important persons you speak with during this process. Parents may also request areas that they would like to see their child work on; areas that we may not know should require intervention because it is a home-based skill (e.g., sequencing the steps for brushing teeth).
In a school setting, the classroom teacher and other related service professionals who treat the child are important individuals to talk to as well. Usually, they are the people who spend the most time with the child at school and can provide a broader picture of the child’s skills across a school day. Not every SLP can always be hands-on in the classroom; so a teacher may share that [client] has difficulty initiating play attempts with their classmate. Another example may be that the client demonstrates an inconsistent vocal volume when talking to different communication partners.
Look at the client’s skills as a whole
It is important to really stop and think about the client’s long term goals (if they have them from years past) and assess where they are relative to those goals. From there, what areas still need to be targeted? What skills have already been mastered? Have these mastered skills been maintained? Should they be modified, removed, or, are there goals to be added?
Other alternatives to IEPs include transition plans (commonly seen with adolescents in special education settings) and care plans (commonly seen with adults in medical/skilled nursing facilities) are documents to consider as well. Speech therapy goals should be tailored to meet the objectives within these plans, as these are documents that often outline what exactly the individual has to work on to transition to the next phase of their life.
Select formal/informal assessment measures
Remember how talking to the caregiver/parents are important? Well, that’s when informal assessments, like questionnaires and clinical observations come into play. Questionnaires may not provide the same level of data as some formal assessment measures may, but they can highlight areas of concern that come directly from a familiar source. Observations are valuable because it allows clinicians to examine the client’s speech/language skills in natural and less contrived contexts, such as with individuals the client may communicate with most (e.g., siblings/caregivers).
It is important for clinicians to select the most appropriate assessments...based on the information you have gathered about the client. Maybe a screener was delivered prior to determining what areas required further assessment are needed to further assess. So if a screener/language sample does not indicate articulation errors, there’s likely no need to do a full speech sound assessment. A mix of informal and formal assessment measures (if possible) will give you a wide breadth of information to base your goals off of (remember: your goals should always be evidenced-based!).
Gather and synthesize information
This is the time when you analyze all of the data you have collected and determine the client's relative strengths and areas of concern. What are your most important findings? What are some goals they could make progress towards? Spoiler: you can’t target everything! So, prioritize the areas of concern. Consider some of our above points - e.g.,what findings align/best support the client’s transition plan? Is it more functional for your 18-year-old client to work on producing /th/ in the final position of words or follow multi-step directions in a vocationally-based setting?
You also want to think about a reasonable amount of goals your client can master/achieve progress within the allotted time frame. For school-based IEP goals, they are written to be measured across a year span. For more medically-based settings, they may be written to be measured for as little as a few days or maybe across several weeks. It would likely be very difficult for anyone to master 20 different goals in a 8-week time frame!
Okay, we are FINALLY here! Once you have gone through each step in the framework, you are ready to write goals! That can seem like a lot on your plate when you have a tremendous amount of clients to cover. Well, we are here to make that step a little easier - we present to you our SLP goal writing formula:
- DO statement
- CONDITION statement
- CRITERION statement
This is what the client is actually going to DO. Be very clear with this piece. What is the flat-out skill you want the client to achieve? Okay, great. Now think about if it is something that does/does not need to be quantified/specified. You may want to specify a goal like Example #1 if you think that it is overreaching for the client to follow every single multi-step direction presented to them, with independence. Perhaps following 5 is more achievable in the year span in which the goal will be targeted.
-Example #1: [Client] will follow ___ multi-step directions
-Example #2: [Client] will eliminate the phonological process [list phonological process]
-Example #3: [Client] will navigate to ___ novel pages within his AAC device
Where/within what context is your client going to work on this goal? Is it a skill you want the child to work on in a structured setting first and then in more natural settings? During mealtimes? In a certain position of a word? Or is it something he should master across different contexts? Think clearly about the specificity of this piece; sometimes broader (e.g., “structured”) can be better for targeting purposes, in the event that a client-specific setting no longer prevents itself as available.
-Example #1: with familiar/unfamiliar communication partner
-Example #2: at the single word level
-Example #3: in a structured/unstructured setting
Note: Depending on the provider facility, some may permit prompts to be written within the goal. In that case, this may be something to add to your condition statement. Prompts may be appropriate if you do not see the client achieving the goal with entire independence, but it remains an important skill to work on.
-Example WITH prompts: during a structured activity, given phonemic prompts
This is one of the MOST important pieces of goal writing, because this is where you add the measurable aspect . Goals. Should. Always. Be. Measurable. If they are not measurable, there is no way to indicate that there has been an increase in performance. In your head, you should have a baseline (present level of performance) as to where the client is currently at with the skill, followed by what level you think they can get to. Do NOT write a goal that you are confident that the client will not achieve. Why? Because goals are meant to be realistic and attainable (or at minimum show increased performance towards the skill) with proper intervention.
-Example #1: within 3 out of 4 opportunities
-Example #2: with 90% accuracy
-Example #3: in 9 out 10 trials
DO + CONDITION + CRITERION
-Example #1: [Client] will follow 5 multi-step directions, when delivered by an unfamiliar communication partner, within 3 out of 4 opportunities.
-Example #2: [Client] will eliminate the phonological process stopping, at the single word level, with 90% accuracy.
-Example #3: [Client] will navigate to novel pages within his AAC device, in a structured setting, in 9 out of 10 trials.
-Example WITH prompts: [Client] will label 15 common objects during a structured activity, given phonemic prompts, with 90% independence.
There you have it, the "formal,” if you will, steps to writing speech therapy goals. It’s also key to remember that a goal really isn’t “mastered” unless performance is consistent over time. You may see a caveat to goals that may say something like, [goal] across 3 consecutive sessions. AKA, the goal is mastered when the client can meet the criterion (e.g., 90% accuracy) across 3 sessions.