Get Your Child’s Team Working Towards Real Life Goals

I have written about the topic of smarter goals previously but it’s an issue that I continue to tackle during my family service coaching work. Most of the children whose parents I coach have a comprehensive team of allied health professionals: speech pathology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, ABA (or similar) therapists, psychologist, school staff, special educators and may be more. Despite our working knowledge of family centered practice and team work, everybody seems to continue to work in silos. The result being that children may have as many as 20 or 30 individual goals. All of which are set with good intentions and professional belief.

Parents are telling me that they are quite overwhelmed by their child’s therapy and education program and often quite unsure as to what each of the therapists is actually working on. I have written about this in my book “Becoming Chief, how to lead your child’s special needs tribe“. The later point being made all the more difficult when therapists don’t provide written goal statements to parents. There is also the issue of therapist working on overlapping goals but from a slightly differing perspectives. Parents find themselves sitting in the middle applying strategies as best they can from a range of sources.

How often does your child’s entire team (or those actively delivering services) meet to set goals and review progress? And a reminder here that meetings don’t always have to be face-to-face nowadays, we have great technology to support easy virtual meetings. As chief of your child’s tribe, you the parent, are best placed to set the goals you wish your child to achieve. Start this process before the meeting by listing the skills you want your child to achieve. Put them in order of importance, think about it for a few days, chat with others and change them around to best suit your wishes. Keep it simple. Fred will feed himself a bowl of pasta with a spoon at dinner time, with no adult help, by end of term. Hold in mind exactly what you want the new skill to look like and then write it down. The wordsmithing and the measurability can all happen later during the team discussion.

Goals and strategies often get confused. I read this all the time on the ILP and various goal documents that I review with parents. For me, a goal starts with the child’s name ‘Fred will …’ and the exact behaviour they will perform. A strategy may start with ‘the team will …’ or may list all the ways the adults will coach the child’s skill development, e.g. wait 10 seconds for Fred to respond to verbal instruction, use a visual schedule, provide PECS photos and so on. In the documents that I prepare with parents we write the goal at the top and then list the strategies we will use to achieve that goal. This keeps it clear and simple and works pretty well.

Goals and strategies should be term based. I get anxious about goals that run the length of an entire year, they are probably way to big and broad, there’s a good chance that the child’s needs may not have been fully unpacked and understood. Term based goals, approximately ten weeks, usually work nicely and specific skill development or maintenance can be addressed. I work with special educators who systematically track micro goals on a fortnightly basis. Other forms of therapy also do a terrific job of recording responses and progress towards identified skills. A series of short term goals tends to be more effective than a long haul towards grander goals in that the team stay focused and specific. Strategies can be tried and tested and tweaked. Most importantly your child’s therapy and education team need to write notes and share a summary with you and where appropriate the entire team. Such communication supports your memory, your child’s progress, identifies hiccups and helps build intentional teaming around your child.

Specific real life goals work best. Certainly here in Australia the NDIS is heavily geared towards functional real life skill development, which is fantastic. Real life goals are those skills your child needs to participate in their life as actively and happily as possible. Getting around, communicating with friends and family, using their community, learning optimally, being able to play, develop friendships and the list continues. This is where goals should be focused, with clearly identified steps as to how to get there.

The ultimate test for your child’s goal based program is whether all the goals can be comfortably written on a regular sized sticky note. Or as an alternative, would you be to list the target areas on one hand. Hmm challenging for most but an interesting concept to think about. I suspect that there is a tendency to try to do too much too quickly. More therapy doesn’t always equate to more progress, sometimes less is more.

How are your child’s goals looking?

How can you work towards reviewing and refining your child goals and program?

Does your child have the goals and strategies documented and shared team wide?

What would be the advantages of having all this in place?

What steps can you take to achieve this?

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