It’s no secret that many kids with disabilities struggle socially and struggle to build and maintain friendships. When Brian tells me stories of kids at school who sound like they have a disability of some kind, I always encourage (read: nag!) him to go the extra step.

I encourage him to be extra patient and help that classmate, reach out to that classmate, invite them to eat with you and invite them to play on the playground. Social Capital, or lack thereof, is one of the biggest issues in life that our kids will face.

social skills iep goals

Social Skills IEP Goals

Kevin doesn’t have any friends. That’s hard for me to say out loud. He’s 16. He’s never been invited to a sleepover, never invited to a birthday party on his own accord, or invited to come over and play at someone’s house.

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My kids don’t have school today and Brian asked if he could go out in the neighborhood.


He stays here with me. We play some games, read, toys, TV, and movies, but this is his every day off.

Just hanging out with mom.

IEP Goals for Social Skills

What hurts me the most is how much he loves to be around other kids. When Brian has friends over, he loves to be with them. He just sits on the sidelines, watching, smiling, and enjoying the company. It’s been very difficult to move him past that passive stage.

His school team reports that when he is having a good day (he has lots of seizures) and isn’t wiped out, he engages in school groups and parties.

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3 girls playing outside

Educators are realizing that you cannot demand certain skills of kids if they lack the foundation skills. The term “Social Emotional Learning” is a new(ish) buzzword in special education. This blog post is pretty old, so rather than scrap it and start over, I’m adding SEL to it.

I guess what I’m saying here is this. Just putting “social skills goals” on an IEP is outdated thinking, and futile at best. It’s an antiquated way of addressing the issue. This is an excellent video and live event I held recently on prioritizing friendships at school, and adding them to your IEP.

Social Skills Goals

Peer interaction can be a goal and our kids can have success with this.

It’s on us, as parents. We can get it put into their IEP, but we must spend an extraordinary amount of time and energy helping our kids develop social skills. Often when a child lacks social skills or social cognition, it is perceived to be cognitive and academic deficits.

This is a mindset shift. If you haven’t already, please watch the video embedded above. In particular, the part at the beginning about micro and macro changes that we make to our kids’ lives.

Moms, stick with your gut instincts and keep advocating. It may be as simple as a social story about making friends.

Social Skills Goals for Autism

Regardless of disability, all kids can have some struggles with social skills. Even still, students with autism get really pigeon-holed or stigmatized into the “lacks social skills” corner.

My point is, all kids, and even some adults, struggle with social skills at some point in our lives. Social Skills Goals are something we should all be working on.

Yesterday I attended a presentation from Tara of 2 B Social. When I first published this post, I felt uncomfortable with it. I have a real problem with society not accepting our kids. Why is it always the disabled kids’ fault that they have no friends? Why don’t we teach others to work harder at being friends with people who are different from us?

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Disabled kids already have enough on their plates. I brought this up yesterday.

“You’re right,” she said.

“We need a paradigm shift. But that takes a long time, so until we get there, these are the skills that kids need in order to be successful socially.”

Good point. I’ll do both.

But, still, as she pointed out, most kids are just being told “what to do” as far as social skills goals, and they do not have the base knowledge. I hadn’t seen this for a long time, and I liked it in Tara’s context.

Social Skills Goals

Social Thinking and the Social Learning Tree: You need roots before you can have leaves. I find that this is a critical error that many IEP teams miss. They create social skills IEP goals for something like “will cooperate and be friendly on the playground during recess” and completely disregard all the foundation skills that are needed before you have that skill.

image of a tree with the social thinking social learning tree

When you look at the social skills below, look at the roots of the tree. Match up each goal (that you are considering) to a tree root. Does the child have that skill? Then why are they being told to do something?

We have to go back. It doesn’t matter what age the child is. If he doesn’t have roots, he cannot do other things.

Many kids with autism are wired differently. Particularly when it comes to interoception and proprioception. The child’s interoceptive skills and proprioceptive skills must be assessed, otherwise, you’re just frustrating and demoralizing a child with expectations he/she can never reach. And you’re just spinning your wheels as a teacher. Progress won’t happen.

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Social Communication Goals

Yes, social skills should be worked on at school. There is no “oh that’s social skills, we only do academics here.” If it’s an area of need, it’s an area of need. Use the IEP process and the PWN to get it on the IEP.

But it is something that should be on your radar all the time, practicing and giving your child opportunities. The schools only have our kids 6 hours a day, 180 days a year. They are with us much more than that. And, social skills and things like peer interaction are sometimes not learned easily.

Social-Emotional Skills

There are many evaluations out there for SEL or social-emotional skills. As a general rule, I don’t recommend asking for specific IEP evaluations (as a parent). What you want is for the area of need to be identified.

And, as always, the school is required to evaluate all areas of suspected disability. If they don’t suspect it, ask for it.

Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health has an assessment tool called the DESSA System. I would at least familiarize myself with the 8 concepts of SEL defined in their system.

8 colored blocks with the social competencies in DESSA
The competencies defined in DESSA.

This a friendly reminder that no IEP student should be held to higher/stricter standards than their typical peers. None of us is level-headed and makes perfect decisions 100% of the time, so these kids shouldn’t be held to that either.

IEP Goals for Social Skills

Keep in mind you may have to alter some of these to make them measurable. But all can be quantified and measured.

  1. During unstructured play times, ______ will interact with peers in an appropriate manner through maintaining personal space and a respectful voice for an average 80% of intervals, measured over a 2 week period. (may need to teach what personal space and voice is, based on child’s interoception and proprioception)
  2. _______ will decrease inappropriate verbal comments (such as “you are weird” or “you are a loser”) to 1 time per week or less by responding appropriately when his/her feelings are hurt (use words, talk to a teacher, walk away, stay calm) and seeking attention in appropriate ways (asking a friend to play, initiating conversation, giving a compliment) in 4 out of 5 trials as measured by teacher charted data.
  3. During unstructured play (recess, choice time), _______will play (participate, share, follow directions/rules, take turns) with 1-2 peers for 10 minutes with no more then 1 adult prompt in 4 out of 5 opportunities as measured by teacher/staff data and observation.
  4. When given scenarios of social conflicts, ______ will demonstrate problem solving skills by identifying the problem and generating two solutions appropriate to the situation in 4/5 trials, as measured by data collection.
  5. Given a pre-recess check-in with an adult, the student will identify the classmates she would like to get to know and greet them independently with 80% success across 3 consecutive weeks during recess.
  6. During recess,  the student will initiate and begin a back and forth conversation exchange (for example, greeting and asking about a shared interest, such as a TV show, or asking if the peer enjoys crafts/art) with one of the previously identified classmates independently with 80% success across 3 consecutive weeks.

Peer Interaction IEP Goals

Here’s a list of 20 IEP goals and objectives tailored to enhance peer interaction skills:

  1. Goal: Improve turn-taking during group discussions.
    • Objective: By the end of the semester, the student will wait for their turn to speak during group activities without interrupting others more than twice per session.
  2. Goal: Develop empathy towards peers.
    • Objective: By the end of the school year, the student will demonstrate empathy by acknowledging and responding appropriately to the feelings of classmates at least three times per week.
  3. Goal: Enhance collaboration skills during group projects.
    • Objective: During collaborative tasks, the student will actively contribute ideas and listen to others’ suggestions without exhibiting disruptive behaviors.
  4. Goal: Increase social initiation with peers.
    • Objective: The student will initiate conversations or interactions with classmates at least once per day during recess or unstructured social times.
  5. Goal: Improve nonverbal communication cues.
    • Objective: The student will correctly interpret and respond to nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and body language demonstrated by peers in various social situations.
  6. Goal: Foster positive peer relationships.
    • Objective: The student will engage in cooperative play activities with peers, such as sharing toys or playing games together, at least twice per week.
  7. Goal: Develop conflict resolution skills.
    • Objective: The student will demonstrate the ability to express feelings, listen to others’ perspectives, and negotiate solutions during conflicts with peers at least once per week.
  8. Goal: Increase participation in group activities.
    • Objective: The student will actively engage in group activities by offering ideas, asking questions, and contributing to discussions at least three times per week.
  9. Goal: Expand peer support networks.
    • Objective: The student will identify at least three peers whom they can seek help from or collaborate with on academic tasks or social activities.
  10. Goal: Reduce social anxiety in group settings.
    • Objective: The student will participate in group activities without exhibiting signs of anxiety (e.g., avoiding eye contact, fidgeting) for at least 80% of the time.
  11. Goal: Develop reciprocity in social interactions.
    • Objective: The student will take turns initiating and responding in social interactions, maintaining a balanced exchange of communication during conversations or play.
  12. Goal: Increase self-advocacy skills.
    • Objective: The student will articulate their needs or preferences to peers, teachers, or other adults in appropriate ways, seeking assistance or accommodations when necessary.
  13. Goal: Expand social communication repertoire.
    • Objective: The student will learn and utilize new strategies for initiating and sustaining conversations with peers, such as asking open-ended questions or offering compliments.
  14. Goal: Enhance peer acceptance and belonging.
    • Objective: The student will participate in inclusive activities or group settings where they feel accepted and valued by peers, fostering a sense of belonging.
  15. Goal: Improve perspective-taking abilities.
    • Objective: The student will demonstrate an understanding of others’ thoughts, feelings, and perspectives by accurately predicting their reactions or responses in social situations.
  16. Goal: Foster leadership skills within peer groups.
    • Objective: The student will take on leadership roles or responsibilities within group activities, guiding peers and facilitating cooperation towards common goals.
  17. Goal: Develop social problem-solving skills.
    • Objective: The student will identify social challenges or conflicts within peer interactions and generate and evaluate potential solutions to address them effectively.
  18. Goal: Increase peer engagement in classroom discussions.
    • Objective: The student will actively participate in classroom discussions by contributing relevant ideas, asking questions, and responding to peers’ contributions.
  19. Goal: Promote active listening skills.
    • Objective: The student will demonstrate active listening by maintaining eye contact, nodding in acknowledgment, and paraphrasing peers’ statements during conversations.
  20. Goal: Foster positive peer feedback and reinforcement.
    • Objective: The student will provide supportive and constructive feedback to peers, acknowledging their contributions and encouraging continued participation in group activities.

Social Skills IEP Goals for High School Students

Here are five social skills Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals tailored for high school students:

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  1. Initiating and Maintaining Conversations:
    • Objective: Student will initiate conversations with peers and adults in various settings (e.g., classroom, cafeteria, extracurricular activities) and sustain them for at least 3 exchanges.
    • Target: Increase the frequency of initiating conversations from 1 per day to 3 per day over the course of the school year.
    • Measurement: Data will be collected through teacher observations and self-reporting by the student using a conversation log.
  2. Understanding Social Cues:
    • Objective: Student will demonstrate improved understanding of non-verbal social cues (e.g., body language, facial expressions, tone of voice) in social interactions.
    • Target: Increase accuracy in interpreting social cues from 50% to 75% during interactions with peers and teachers.
    • Measurement: Utilize video modeling and role-playing scenarios to assess the student’s ability to recognize and respond appropriately to social cues.
  3. Conflict Resolution Skills:
    • Objective: Student will learn and apply strategies for resolving conflicts with peers in a constructive manner.
    • Target: Reduce the number of reported conflicts by 50% over the course of the school year.
    • Measurement: Monitor the frequency and nature of conflicts through incident reports and student self-reflection journals. Assess the effectiveness of conflict resolution strategies implemented.
  4. Peer Collaboration and Teamwork:
    • Objective: Student will actively participate in group activities and demonstrate effective collaboration skills.
    • Target: Increase the number of positive peer interactions during group projects from 25% to 75% by the end of the semester.
    • Measurement: Use rubrics and peer evaluations to assess the quality and quantity of the student’s contributions to group activities and projects.
  5. Self-Advocacy Skills:
    • Objective: Student will develop the ability to self-advocate for their needs in various social and academic settings.
    • Target: Increase instances of independently seeking help or accommodations from teachers and support staff by 50% over the school year.
    • Measurement: Track the student’s progress through self-reporting, teacher feedback, and monitoring the frequency of instances where the student proactively seeks assistance or accommodations.

These goals can be further tailored based on the specific needs and abilities of the student, as well as input from parents, teachers, and any relevant professionals involved in the student’s education and social development.

Social IEP Goals

  1. Given a preferred activity, the student will invite one of her new “friends” to join her in a shared favorite activity during recess. (For example, the student will invite a friend to join her in making rainbow band bracelets or in drawing with sidewalk chalk in the designated area of the playground). The student will participate in this activity with a peer for at least five minutes during recess with 80% success across 3 consecutive weeks.
  2. While engaged in a shared activity, the student will comment, ask questions appropriate to the activity, and respond to questions or comments provided by the peer for 5 conversational turns with 80% success during recess across 3 consecutive weeks during recess.
  3. Making friends – Attend one event a week where I’ll have a chance to meet new people.
  4. Facing a fear of big events – Practice relaxation techniques for fifteen minutes every day. (more of accommodation, can also add in the ability to recognize and troubleshoot situations)
  5. Feeling less awkward around people – After certain social interactions, inspect (troubleshoot, self identify) the thoughts that came up during and after it. Troubleshoot the ones that are negative and maladaptive and list 3 alternatives.
  6. Improving conversation skills – Strike up a quick conversation with three people a day.
  7. Identify signs of frustration, anxiety and stress in self and others.
  8. Engage in cooperative play with at least one other peer.
  9. Learn and follow the rules when playing an organized game.
  10. Offer to help a teacher or peer at an appropriate time.
  11. Refrain from interrupting others in conversation.
  12. Cooperate with peers without prompting.
  13. Maintain appropriate space and boundaries.
  14. Making friends – Meet two potential new friends and start spending time with them at least once every two weeks.
  15. Facing a fear of big events – By the end of three months, be able to attend a house party and stay for at least two hours.
  16. Feeling less awkward around people – Come up with a 1-10 scale for how uncomfortable and nervous you feel in social interactions. Over the next three months record how you felt during certain interactions and move the average rating down from an 8 to a 4.
  17. Improving conversation skills – Be able to have a half-hour conversation with someone you haven’t talked to much before, and subjectively rate yourself as feeling confident throughout it. Express anger appropriately by using words to state feelings
  18. Resolve conflicts without physical contact or abrasive language (e.g., stating emotions/desire, or walking away)
  19. Respond to teasing from peers appropriately
  20. Name ways people show approval/disapproval in various situations (based on needs).
  21. Describe steps in making a decision.
  22. Set realistic goals for personal growth; identify areas of need in personal growth.
  23. State own personal strengths and areas of need in general school behavior, or home.
  24. Gather necessary information to make decisions; identify where to find that information.
  25. Appropriately seek help from an adult, when appropriate.
  26. Describe situations in which student experiences a given emotion
  27. Correctly identify emotions (happy, scared, angry, sad) from a set of pictures or tv show (on mute).
  28. Continue to maintain appropriate behavior even when {name common antecedent situations}.
  29. Follow through on making commitments involved in a decision.

Social Skills Goals for High School

  1. Student will work effectively with classmates in completing a small group project, as demonstrated by….
  2. Student will interact with classmates at lunch through conversation….
  3. Student interact with classmates during social activities by joining in adult-organized activities
  4. Student will transition from one activity to another at a rate commensurate with peers
  5. Student will respond to teasing and/or bullying by moving away and reporting to an adult or debriefing appropriately with counselor….
  6. Student will participate and respond appropriately in group classroom discussions….
  7. Student will recognize need and ask for take a break when feeling overwhelmed….
  8. Student will develop and refer to plans for dealing with unexpected schedule change…..

I found this printable list of social-emotional IEP goals on Pinterest. It wasn’t attached to anything except a spammy Pinterest account, so I have no idea who wrote them. Not bad, they need a little bit of tinkering. But, it’s something to get your wheels turning on ideas.

Neurodiversity Affirming Social Skills Goals

Here are five neurodiversity affirming IEP goals for high school students:

  1. Celebrating Individual Strengths and Interests:
    • Objective: Student will identify and celebrate their unique strengths, interests, and talents, recognizing the value of their neurodiversity.
    • Target: Increase self-awareness and self-acceptance by regularly participating in activities that highlight personal strengths and interests, such as clubs, projects, or presentations.
    • Measurement: Student reflections, peer feedback, and documentation of participation in activities related to their interests.
  2. Building Self-Advocacy Skills for Accommodations:
    • Objective: Student will advocate for the accommodations and supports necessary to access the curriculum and participate fully in school activities.
    • Target: Increase the ability to articulate accommodation needs and preferences during IEP meetings and in interactions with teachers and staff by the end of the school year.
    • Measurement: Documentation of successful advocacy instances, teacher and staff feedback, and self-assessment of confidence in self-advocacy.
  3. Creating Inclusive Peer Relationships:
    • Objective: Student will foster inclusive peer relationships by educating classmates about neurodiversity and promoting empathy and acceptance.
    • Target: Organize and lead at least two neurodiversity awareness events or discussions within the school community during the academic year.
    • Measurement: Participation rates in events, peer feedback, and observations of increased empathy and understanding among classmates.
  4. Developing Coping Strategies for Sensory Sensitivities:
    • Objective: Student will identify and utilize coping strategies to manage sensory sensitivities and regulate emotional responses in various school environments.
    • Target: Increase the utilization of sensory tools and techniques to manage sensory overload or discomfort by 50% within the first semester.
    • Measurement: Daily self-reports on the effectiveness of coping strategies, teacher observations of improved self-regulation, and feedback from support staff.
  5. Promoting Executive Functioning Skills:
    • Objective: Student will develop and strengthen executive functioning skills to enhance organization, time management, and task completion.
    • Target: Improve executive function skills by implementing personalized strategies and supports, resulting in a 25% increase in assignment completion rates by the end of the school year.
    • Measurement: Regular progress monitoring of assignment completion rates, feedback from teachers on the effectiveness of implemented strategies, and self-assessment of organization and time management skills.

These goals aim to empower students with neurodiverse identities, promote self-acceptance, and foster an inclusive and supportive school environment that celebrates the strengths and contributions of all students.

Social Skills IEP Goal Bank

If you need some IEP goals with supporting objectives, here you go.

  1. ________ will develop social understanding skills as measured by the benchmarks listed below.
  • _____ will raise their hand and wait to be called on before talking aloud in group settings 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____will work cooperatively with peers in small group settings (ie. Share materials, allow peers to share different thoughts) 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will develop an understanding of the relationship between his/her verbalizations and actions/effect on others 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will engage in appropriate cooperative social play interactions initiated by others 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will engage in cooperative social play interactions by allowing others to make changes or alter the play routine 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will engage in appropriate turn-taking skills by attending to peer’s turn and waiting for own turn 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____will appropriately acknowledge an interaction initiated by others by giving an appropriate response, either verbal or non-verbal.
  • _____ will develop an understanding of the rationale for various social skills by stating the reason when asked (ie. Why do we say excuse me?)
  • _____ will increase social awareness of the environment by stating what is taking place in the environment or imitating actions of others 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will increase safety awareness by stating the effect of various situations 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will identify appropriate social rules and codes of conduct for various social situations 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will refrain from interrupting others by exhibiting appropriate social interaction skills 4/5 opportunities.
  1. ________ will increase social-emotional skills as measured by the benchmarks listed below.
  • _____ will identify various emotional states in others 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will state why a person might be feeling a particular emotion 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will identify various simple emotional states in self 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will state why he/she might be feeling a particular emotion 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will state what would be an appropriate response to a particular emotional state 4/5 opportunities to do so.

3.____ will increase social communication skills as measured by the benchmarks listed below.

  • _____ will initiate communicative interactions with others 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will initiate varied appropriate topics with others 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will initiate communicative interactions with others by asking questions 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will engage in conversational turn-taking with others across 3-4 conversational turns, 4/5 opportunities to do so (topics initiated by self /others).
  • _____ will call attention to communicative partner prior to communicating 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will ask questions of others regarding topics initiated by self or others to sustain a conversation for conversational turn-taking 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will identify and understand various non-verbal social communication behaviors (ie. Tone of voice, personal space, vocal volume, body orientation, facial expressions) by stating their implied meaning 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will spontaneously seek assistance/ ask for help/ seek additional information given visual prompts 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will spontaneously use a verbal or non-verbal message to indicate to the speaker that he needs additional “wait” time to process information editorially 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will identify breakdowns in communication and make appropriate adjustments 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  1. ____ will increase conversation skills to stick to the topic at hand; and what others are interested in.
  • _____ will state the main idea of the story, video or situation 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will relate information (ie. Past events, stories, situations, etc…) sequentially 4/5 opportunities to do so.
  • _____ will identify what happened first, in the middle, and last regarding a previous read story, past event, or situation.
  • When relating information_____ will provide an initial background statement, include referents, include important pieces of relational information and leave out irrelevant details.

5.____ will increase their ability to function appropriately within the school environment as measured by the benchmarks listed below.

  • Given visual and verbal prompts, _____ will participate in tasks/ activities to completion by exhibiting appropriate behaviors, _% of the time.
  • _____ will transition appropriately from tasks and activities and school environments _% of the time given visual and verbal prompts.
  • _____ will accept changes in the routine/schedule by exhibiting appropriate behaviors given visual and verbal cues _ % of the time.
  • _____ will follow classroom rules and directives given visual and verbal prompts _% of the time.
  • _____ will independently take a break given visual prompts _ % of the time. (goal #5: objectives contd.)
  • _____ will independently ask to take a break given visual and verbal prompts _% of the time.

*A reader reached out and said she found the source of some of the IEP goals listed. She said they are on Bridges for Kids.

More Social Skills

Autism and Sensory IEP Goals

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Social Emotional IEP Goals

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