Inside: Learn how to build a robust, meaningful autism IEP, including goals, accommodations, and even a sample IEP.

For almost 10 years, readers have been asking me questions about an IEP and autism. It’s quite common in our chat forums to have a mom pop in and say, “We were just told we were getting an IEP for autism; what should I ask for?”

For 10 years, I have resisted writing about putting together IEP goals and strategies for autism. Mostly because IEPs are to be needs-driven, not diagnosis-driven.

iep files scattered on a desk

The goals, supports, and services that are in an IEP should be based on what the child needs, not a diagnosis or IEP eligibility category.

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IEP for Autism

Every child in the same eligibility category should not be receiving exactly the same thing. For example, a common stereotype for autistics is that they all have hyperfixations. But, they do not.

But now, reluctantly, I’m going to do so. The reason I have not addressed an Autism IEP specifically before is because, as Stephen Shore said,

If you’ve seen one child with autism…

You’ve seen one child with autism.

Stephen Shore, Autistic Professor and Researcher.

And it’s true. No two children are the same, even with the same disabilities. I love that my lists of IEP goals and other resources on here get used as frequently as they do.

But I was hesitant to put any Autism IEP Samples on here because I don’t want them copied. Please let them inspire you and get your creative juices flowing, but don’t copy them word for word.

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But, parents should know how a meaningful IEP for autism is created and built. So I’m going to walk you through the steps.

See the list: Crossing Midline Activities for Older Kids

Should a Student with Autism have an IEP?

A medical diagnosis of Autism does not guarantee IEP eligibility. To get started, you must request that “your child be evaluated for eligibility for special education services.”

Make this request in writing. And remember, the school must evaluate in all areas of suspected disability, so if they do not suspect something, bring it to their attention.

I have written extensively on this in other posts, including sample letter templates for you to use.

Here is the IDEA definition of Autism. I have copied it directly from the IDEA website.

Your state may also further define criteria for autism. I have all 50 states special education regulations here.

IDEA Definition of Autism

Statute/Regs Main » Regulations » Part B » Subpart A » Section 300.8 » c » 1

(1)(i) Autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.

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(ii) Autism does not apply if a child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance, as defined in paragraph (c)(4) of this section.

(iii) A child who manifests the characteristics of autism after age three could be identified as having autism if the criteria in paragraph (c)(1)(i) of this section are satisfied.

IDEA Sec. 300.8 (c) (1)

What are some questions to Ask in an IEP meeting for autism?

I have outlined the specific steps for getting an IEP in another post. The steps are the same, regardless of the disability. How to Get an IEP

Once your child has been evaluated, you will have an Evaluation Report or Eligibility Meeting. Different states call them different things.

If, your school declines to evaluate your child (and you disagree) or if you disagree with the findings of their evaluations, ask for an IEE.

The eligibility report will provide you with a lot of information. Take time to digest it all. Ask for someone to explain it to you, if you do not understand it. The school is legally required to provide you with someone who can explain the IEP testing to you.

If there are no student strengths listed in the evaluation report, I would ask why and add some suggestions. Every child has strengths and IEPs are supposed to be strengths-based programs.

Autism Eligibility: Present Levels

But let’s assume that your child is found eligible under the Autism category. You can still agree with their findings and feel that their assessments were incomplete.

Your child’s IEP (when finalized) will have a Present Levels section. This is arguably the most important part of the IEP. Why?

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Because IEP Present Levels should be a complete, thorough and accurate picture of your child. Everything! The good, the bad, the ugly. All their strengths and all their areas of need. Goals are developed from Present Levels, so it’s important that you get it right.

If it’s not complete, then you have to ask for more or different evaluations. I also want to point out that I don’t know that I’ve ever had a client who just had autism and nothing else.

This is why it is so important for parents to be vocal during the evaluation process. The child may be autistic–but it might be dyslexia or ADHD that actually inhibit the child’s learning.

It is very common to have comorbid conditions, so leave no stone unturned.

But once you have a solid present levels section, you’re ready to begin developing goals.

IEP Goals for Autism

There is no defined number of goals for an IEP. And, not everything can be a priority. Some kids have so many needs, and there are only so many hours in a school day. (this describes my own kid, so I get it!)

I’ve been asked if I have a specific Autism IEP Goal Bank, Preschool IEP Goals for Autism, Social Emotional IEP Goals for Autism, Reading Comprehension IEP Goals for Autism, or Self Advocacy IEP Goals for Autism.

I have separate posts on each of those, but self advocacy is self advocacy–regardless of the disability.

Here is a list of Autism Goals for an IEP. I have mixed thoughts about including it here. I did the advocacy training program from this organization and I found them to be quite ableist.

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Still, even a broken clock is right twice a day, so there are a few good things in here. I had these in a post way back in 2015 (according to the date in the URL), then I removed them, now I am adding them in again.

And here’s another:

And another. Just please, be aware of your own personal biases and that of your team.

IEP Autism vs Emotional Disturbance

Ok, if I’m going to devote a whole blog post to Autism IEPs, I cannot ignore the IEP Autism vs. Emotional Disturbance issue.

If we go back and revisit the IDEA definition of Autism, it said:

Autism does not apply if a child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance, as defined in paragraph (c)(4) of this section.

IDEA Sec. 300.8 (c) (1)

Bold is mine. But basically, it’s right in IDEA–if you suspect autism or ED, go with ED. And then it directs to you the definition of ED.

(4)(i) Emotional disturbance means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:(A) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.

(B) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.

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(C) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.

(D) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.

(E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

(ii) Emotional disturbance includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance under paragraph (c)(4)(i) of this section.

IDEA Section 300.8

So listen, I could rant for days on this. I could speculate and pontificate as to why I think it is happening and what my ideas for solutions are.

But, the takeaway is this:

There is an all-too-common trend, seen nationwide, where schools are placing kids in the ED category when the parent feels autism is more appropriate. In many cases, the child was eligible under Autism, sometimes for years. And then parents were told we “have to” move him to Emotional Disturbance.

It has also been my experiencing in advocating for kids like this, that for many years, their autism-related needs went unmet, and the child began to exhibit behaviors consistent with ED.

Again, I’m not going to get into the “why” behind it all. But if you disagree, read and use your IEP Procedural Safeguards. It’s a very unfortunate practice and it has to stop. Ask for assistance in our Facebook Group if you must.

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Sample IEP for Autism PDF

Online I found a couple of good examples of IEPs for Autism that I felt were worth sharing. The first one isn’t an IEP per se, but it is a best-practice model that some states are following.

If those districts are truly using this procedure, good for them! So much better than the cookie cutter IEPs that I usually see.

And this one, eh, I’m not wild about it. But I definitely would steal some of the wording they use in a letter. I like some of the phrasing they used.

IEP Goals for Autism

Here is more information and more considerations for IEP goals for students in the autism eligibility category.

The following are broad categories of IEP goals for students with autism:

Communication Skills and Autism

Social Skills and Autism

  • Cultivate and enhance social interaction skills.
  • Increase peer interaction and play skills.
  • Develop an understanding of social cues and norms.
  • Foster the ability to initiate and sustain conversations.
  • List of IEP Social Skills Goals

Behavioral Goals and Autism

Academic Skills and Autism

  • Improve ability in reading, writing, and math.
  • Promote organizational skills.
  • Enhance attention and focus in the classroom.
  • Encourage independence in completing academic tasks.
  • Improve processing speed

Adaptive Skills and Autism

Sensory Integration Needs

  • Develop coping strategies for sensory sensitivities.
  • Increase tolerance for sensory stimuli in the environment.

Transition Skills (between activities)

  • Improve skills related to transitions between activities.
  • Develop skills for transitioning to new environments.

Executive Functioning

IEP goals must be specific, measurable, and achievable within a specified ti

Autism and Sensory IEP Goals

What Are Some Examples of IEP Goals For Autistic Adults?

IEP goals for autistic adults, often part of transition planning, focus on fostering independence, vocational skills, social skills, and life skills IEP Goals.

Here are some goal ideas: and I have an entire IEP Transition Goal Bank with hundreds of ideas.

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Independent Living

  • The individual will improve cooking skills, demonstrating the ability to prepare a simple, nutritious meal independently.
  • The adult will enhance self-care routines by independently managing personal hygiene and grooming tasks.

Vocational Skills

  • The individual will develop job-related social skills, including appropriate greetings and interactions with colleagues and supervisors.
  • The adult will improve work-related organization and time management skills, meeting deadlines consistently.

Communication Skills

  • The individual will enhance workplace communication by appropriately expressing needs and asking for clarification when necessary.
  • The adult will improve written communication skills, such as composing clear emails or messages related to work tasks.

Social Skills

  • The individual will participate in social activities outside of work, demonstrating an understanding of social cues and appropriate behaviors.
  • The adult will engage in reciprocal conversations, initiating and maintaining interactions with peers or colleagues.

Community Integration

  • The individual will independently navigate public transportation, including planning routes and using public transit safely.
  • The adult will demonstrate effective problem-solving skills in various community settings, such as handling unexpected challenges or changes in plans.

Financial Management

  • The individual will improve money management skills, including budgeting, saving, and making purchases independently.
  • The adult will demonstrate an understanding of financial transactions, such as using a debit card or managing a bank account.

Health and Wellness

  • The individual will independently manage medical appointments, including scheduling, transportation, and communication with healthcare providers.
  • The adult will enhance health and wellness routines, such as regular exercise and maintaining a balanced diet.


  • The individual will develop self-advocacy skills, including expressing personal preferences, needs, and accommodations in various settings.
  • The adult will actively participate in the development of their support plans, expressing goals and preferences during meetings.

It’s important to tailor these goals based on the individual’s unique needs, strengths, and aspirations, considering their level of independence and desired results.

Additionally, regular assessments and adjustments to the goals can help ensure ongoing progress and success.

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