Setting Speech Therapy Goals in the First Visit

Setting Speech Therapy Goals

This is the third in the three-part series about your child’s first visit with the speech therapist.  In part one, we discussed what to expect and what to bring; in part two we discussed what questions you might want to ask the speech pathologist during your child’s evaluation.  In this part, we’ll talk about how you and your child’s SLP will develop speech therapy goals for your child’s progress.

At the end of the evaluation, your child’s speech therapist will discuss setting goals for you and your child to work toward while your child is in speech therapy and possibly beyond.

How You Can Get Involved In The Goal Setting Process

When your child’s speech pathologist presents you with goals, look at each goal and see if it meets three criteria:

  • Is the goal specific?
  • Is the goal attainable?
  • Is the goal relevant?

Is the goal specific?

When looking at a speech therapy goal, think if it is a goal that you will be able to look at 3-6 months from now and really be able to tell if that goal is met.  With a child in early intervention, a parent’s first dream is usually for their child to be able to talk.  If the goal is written for your child to use spoken words to let you know what they want, this may end up as a goal that keeps getting renewed without being met after several reviews.  However, if the goal is written to be more specific and includes specific gestures or words for them to be able to use, then it will be easier for you and the speech therapist to look at that goal and say more definitively that the goal was met or not.

Is the goal attainable?

Think of how easy or hard it is for your child to learn new words, gestures, or sounds.  Then look at the percent accuracy or the number of words or items your child needs to perform correctly.  Do you think that your child will be able to learn those new skills in the amount of time given?  If your child has more than a mild delay, it will take more time than a typical child to catch up on that skill.  For example, if your child is 24 months and their language skills are at a level of a 12-month-old, a goal for your child to perform a 24-month-old skill in six months time (12 months of progress in six months time) may not be the most realistic.  Over time, the major goal is for your child to catch up to age-appropriate levels, but a goal for 6-8 months above your child’s current level of functioning may be more realistic and attainable in the short term.

Is the goal relevant?

Think of what setting, what routine, or what people your child will need to communicate with.  Will the goals written make your child a more functional communicator?  Make sure the goals are not just written for your child to perform a skill in a very structured task, but also something that he or she will be able to use in everyday life.  It may be nice for your child to have a larger vocabulary for things such as naming items in flashcards, but if your child cannot use those words on the spot when they want to ask for something, it may not be the most useful.  Also, remember the goal needs to not only be useful to making your life easier, but a goal that is motivating to your child.  If your child is interested in cars, and the goal is for your child to name animals – this may not be the most motivating speech therapy goal for your child.  If you have pets around the house, but your SLP is working on naming farm animals (and you live nowhere near a farm) – this, of course, may not be the most relevant goal.

Speech Therapy Goals Depend on the Setting

The types of goals set for your child may vary depending on the setting your SLP works in.  Even though your SLP is the one writing the goals initially, remember that you know your child the best and will be the best asset to the team in determining if the suggested goals are going to be attainable and realistic for your child.

Early Intervention Goals (for the wee ones)

For early intervention, goals – also called outcomes – are written to be participation-based and functional.  This means goals are written for the child to be able to use their new skills in a particular activity or routine that is part of their daily lives.  For example, a goal may be written for a child to follow directions during outside play, or pointing to make choices during playtime, or using single words to say what they want to eat a snack times.  Goals are written this way so that when the therapist teaches you strategies to practice every day, your child will be able to practice those skills regularly.  The more repetition a child has when practicing, the more likely they are to meet their goals.  Early intervention-based speech pathologists will often address both communication and feeding goals.

Younger School Age Goals (pre-K and kindergarten)

For school-based services, speech therapy goals are also written to be participation-based, but the focus is on the child’s participation in daily classroom routines and to enable them to learn their academic content.  School-based speech therapists do not usually work on feeding goals.  That is usually the responsibility of the occupational therapist.  For younger school-age kids (often in preschool and kindergarten classrooms), goals may be written to follow classroom and safety rules, to use their language to communicate with peers, ask and answer questions, identify and label vocabulary related to classroom routines and early concepts (names of familiar objects, verbs, descriptives, opposites, numbers).  Some goals may address early identification of letters, but the SLP may not always be the one to address early reading-related goals.

Elementary School Goals (first grade and up)

For kids in elementary school or higher, goals may still address the above-mentioned areas, but may also start to address academic subjects.  Speech therapy goals may include using more complex sentences, grammar, and parts of speech.  Although there may be goals you have in mind for your child to communicate more effectively at home, you will want to show to your child’s speech therapist and IEP (Individualized Education Plan) team that the goals you have in mind are also useful to his or her schooling.

IEP Goals – Benchmarks

In a school-based setting, not only will annual goals be re-written every year (upon reviewing your child’s IEP), benchmark goals will be written for each major goal.  Benchmark goals break big goals up into smaller goals that your child’s SLP believes your child will be able to meet in shorter periods of time (often three months at a time).  Benchmark goals will often address the same big goal, but will vary in the amount of support your child needs to meet that goal or the percent accuracy with which your child can perform the task.

Speech Therapy Goals In A Clinical Setting

Goals for children receiving therapy in a clinic setting may not need to be as functional in how they are written, but still may address similar skills as those discussed above.  Goals may be written in such a way that they are easy to test and measure in a more structured setting.  These goals are usually reviewed every 3-6 months, but the time for review may also depend on how many sessions your insurance will cover at a time.

No matter what setting your child receives speech therapy services in, remember it is always a good idea for you to participate in setting speech therapy goals for your child.

Part 1: What to Expect and What to Bring to the First Visit

Part 2: 5 Important Questions to Ask During the First Visit


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