5 Best Practices for Setting Goals with Autism in the New Year

For many people, the New Year brings with it a renewed sense of opportunity.  It is a time when many people are setting new goals for personal growth.  Setting goals is also a significant part of any good treatment program that is based on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). We set goals when we are deciding what to teach, whether it be a new social skill (e.g., Jen will learn to respond to a play invitation from a peer) or readiness to learn or academic skill for school (e.g., Jen will sit in a group of up to five children and attend to the teacher for five minutes, or Jen will count to 10 using a number line).  It turns out that there are some “best practices” on setting goals to teach a child with autism and that is what we wanted to share with you today.

Tip #1 Focus on the behavior you want to see

Often times when I am working with therapists, teachers or parents, there is a need to reduce some challenging behavior.  For example, they might ask me to help them reduce a client’s aggression or tantrum behavior.  It is really important that when you are working on developing a goal that it is framed in positive terms. 

Tip #2 Break down complex skills

Some behavior is very simple and involves only one step (e.g., turn on the light) however some behavior may be more complex and involve many steps.  For example, getting dressed to go outside could be broken down into the following steps:

  1. Put on snow pants
  2. Put on boots
  3. Put on coat
  4. Put on hat
  5. Put on mittens

Tip #3 Use objective language

Sometimes we use language that is very subjective, that is, that could mean different things to different people.  For example if I were to use a descriptor like “angry” it could mean different things depending on who is listening.  For example, for one person, angry might involve some hitting or kicking, for someone else it might be a red face and yelling.  This is critical because we want to be able to measure the goal that we are setting and we cannot measure something reliably, if it is not written in objective terms.

Tip #4 Select developmentally appropriate goals

Whenever you are selecting goals to work on with your child with autism, it is important that they have the pre-requisite skills and that it is going to improve his/her quality of life.  

Tip #5 Select age appropriate goals

Age appropriateness is always an important consideration.  As we continue to teach new and important skills to our child with autism, we want to improve his or her odds of having successful social interactions with peers and others in the community.  Teaching a 20-year-old to play with dolls may not be as important of a priority as teaching a 20-year-old to play an instrument.


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800-609-8449 |

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Autism Society of Indiana
10255 Commerce Dr Suite 164 | Carmel, Indiana 46032
800-609-8449 |

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