• Writing IEP goals for students with severe-profound or multiple disabilities can be challenging, but it is an essential part of a special education teacher’s job.
  • By following a process that focuses on creating goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, teachers can create meaningful and effective goals for their students.
  • Assessment and goal-setting for students with severe-profound or multiple disabilities require a tailored approach that considers the unique needs and abilities of each student.

Before you all email me with hate mail and tell me that I shouldn’t use words like severe and profound, I’ll tell you to save your energy. I’ve been very open about my family’s situation, my son’s needs, and my opinions on the language.

Having a child with profound autism has taken me on a journey through several iterations of language. At this point, I’m over it. I’m not justifying my love for him anymore (no one expects me to do this with my other son), I’m not explaining myself, or him, anymore. Severe and profound are descriptive words, and they are only negative if you apply a negative belief bias to it. I do not.

A young girl in a wheelchair and a woman kneeling beside her, supporting students, share a moment, smiling at each other outdoors.

If you want to email me with “no human is severe” I’ll invite you to reread my words, because I never said that. You can take your projections of your own fears and beliefs elsewhere and away from my son.

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Evaluating for Profound or High Needs

Most of the time, when we are talking about kids with significant limitations (and yes, they are limitations, limitations are only bad if you attach a negative bias to them) the school team will focus on “life skills.”

A teacher, OT or other professional will use a variety of assessments. Some of them may include the OATECA Functional Skills Assessment tool. Or sometimes a “Vineland.” These are two common assessment tools but there are many others.

What matters most is that the student’s needs are accurately identified.

What eligibility category?

As an advocate, I say this all the time: I want the child in front of me to match the child on paper.

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Yes, the IEP eligibility category matters. There is a category for IDD, autism and multiple disabilities, to name a few.

Many of these students will be in that MDS category. Again, what matters is that it matches the child and that the student’s present levels section is accurate.

IEP Goals for Severe, Profound or Multiple Disabilities

When creating IEP goals for students with severe and profound disabilities, it’s essential to focus on meaningful and functional skills that address the individual’s unique needs. Here are 15 sample IEP goals tailored for students with severe and profound disabilities:

  1. Communication: By [date], using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems or devices, [student] will express basic needs (e.g., hunger, discomfort) to familiar adults in the classroom environment with [percentage] accuracy.
  2. Daily Living Skills: By [date], [student] will independently perform basic self-care tasks (e.g., feeding, grooming, toileting) with minimal assistance from adults in [percentage] of opportunities.
  3. Mobility and Motor Skills: By [date], [student] will demonstrate improved gross and fine motor skills by independently moving from one location to another (e.g., crawling, using a mobility device) and manipulating objects (e.g., grasping, reaching) with adaptive equipment or support as needed.
  4. Sensory Integration: By [date], [student] will demonstrate improved ability to regulate sensory input (e.g., responding appropriately to auditory, tactile, or visual stimuli) to engage in classroom activities and maintain attention for [duration] minutes.
  5. Social Engagement: By [date], [student] will demonstrate improved social engagement by responding to social cues (e.g., smiling, vocalizations) and initiating interactions with familiar adults and peers in the classroom setting.
  6. Participation in Group Activities: By [date], [student] will actively participate in structured group activities (e.g., circle time, music therapy) by attending to the activity, following simple instructions, and interacting with peers or adults with [percentage] accuracy.
  7. Functional Literacy: By [date], [student] will demonstrate basic literacy skills by recognizing and matching common symbols or pictures (e.g., symbols for “eat,” “drink,” “bathroom”) to corresponding actions or objects with [percentage] accuracy.
  8. Numeracy Skills: By [date], [student] will demonstrate basic numeracy skills by identifying and matching numerals or quantities (e.g., matching numbers 1-5 to corresponding objects) with [percentage] accuracy.
  9. Behavior Management: By [date], [student] will demonstrate improved self-regulation and behavior management skills by using appropriate coping strategies (e.g., deep breathing, seeking sensory input) to calm down in challenging situations with adult support as needed.
  10. Transition Skills: By [date], [student] will demonstrate improved ability to transition between activities or environments by following visual or auditory cues and routines with minimal prompting from adults in [percentage] of opportunities.
  11. Independence in Choice-Making: By [date], [student] will demonstrate improved ability to make choices and express preferences (e.g., selecting preferred activities, choosing preferred items) using AAC systems or gestures with [percentage] accuracy.
  12. Safety Awareness: By [date], [student] will demonstrate improved understanding of basic safety rules (e.g., staying seated during mealtime, avoiding hot surfaces) and respond appropriately to safety prompts from adults in the classroom environment.
  13. Self-Advocacy Skills: By [date], [student] will demonstrate improved self-advocacy skills by indicating discomfort or fatigue and requesting breaks or assistance from adults using AAC systems or gestures with [percentage] accuracy.
  14. Community Integration: By [date], [student] will demonstrate improved readiness for community outings by tolerating sensory input (e.g., noise, crowds) and participating in structured community-based activities with adult support as needed.
  15. Family Involvement and Support: By [date], [student]’s family will implement strategies and techniques outlined in the IEP to support skill development and generalize learning across home and community settings as evidenced by [specific measure of progress or compliance].

These goals should be individualized based on the student’s strengths, needs, and developmental level, and should focus on promoting maximum independence and quality of life.

Achieving IEP Goals

One frequent problem I see with IEP goals is the lack of achieving goals. Seeing the same IEP goal on an IEP year after year is a huge red flag. It can mean any number of things.

  • Student needs more supports and services
  • Student needs different supports and services
  • Student experienced a setback such as an illness or hospitalization or family trauma of some kind
  • IEP team set goals that are not appropriate for the child

An IEP goal should be set so that with the right interventions, the child can reasonably be expected to meet it in one year’s time.

Autism and Sensory IEP Goals

What are appropriate IEP goals for students with profound intellectual disabilities?

As a special education teacher, I have found that appropriate IEP goals for students with severe intellectual disabilities should focus on developing functional skills that will help them become more independent. Some examples of appropriate IEP goals include:

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  • Improving self-help skills such as dressing, grooming, and feeding
  • Developing communication skills to express basic wants and needs
  • Enhancing mobility skills such as walking or using a wheelchair
  • Improving social skills such as turn-taking and following directions
  • Developing basic academic skills such as counting and identifying colors

How can I write effective IEP goals for students with profound disabilities?

When writing IEP goals for students with profound disabilities, it is important to focus on their individual strengths and needs. Here are some tips for writing effective IEP goals:

  • Use clear language and measurable objectives
  • Focus on functional skills that will enhance independence
  • Involve the student and their family in the goal-setting process
  • Use assistive technology and other accommodations to support the student’s learning
  • Monitor progress regularly and adjust goals as needed

What IEP goals can support the development of communication skills in students with severe disabilities?

Communication is a vital skill for all students, including those with severe disabilities. Here are some IEP goals that can support the development of communication skills:

  • Using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices to express basic wants and needs
  • Developing social communication skills such as greeting others and making eye contact
  • Improving receptive language skills by following simple directions
  • Developing expressive language skills by labeling objects and using simple sentences
  • Using appropriate communication in different settings such as the classroom and community

Can you provide examples of IEP goals for improving literacy skills in students with significant disabilities?

Improving literacy skills can be challenging for students with significant disabilities, but it is still an important goal. Here are some examples of IEP goals that can support the development of literacy skills:

  • Identifying and matching letters and numbers
  • Recognizing and reading high-frequency words
  • Understanding basic concepts such as colors, shapes, and sizes
  • Developing pre-reading skills such as turning pages and tracking print
  • Using technology to access age-appropriate reading materials

What are some IEP goals that focus on life skills for students with severe to profound disabilities?

Developing life skills is an important part of any special education program, especially for students with severe to profound disabilities. Here are some examples of IEP goals that focus on life skills:

  • Developing self-help skills such as dressing, grooming, and feeding
  • Enhancing mobility skills such as walking or using a wheelchair
  • Developing social skills such as turn-taking and following directions
  • Improving money management skills such as counting and making purchases
  • Developing vocational skills such as sorting and packaging items

How do I set realistic IEP goals for students with low functioning levels?

Setting realistic IEP goals for students with low functioning levels requires careful consideration of their individual strengths and needs. Here are some tips for setting realistic IEP goals:

  • Use data from assessments and observations to identify areas of need
  • Involve the student and their family in the goal-setting process
  • Focus on functional skills that will enhance independence
  • Use clear language and measurable objectives
  • Monitor progress regularly and adjust goals as needed

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