How to Write Goals for Developmental Delays

A developmental disability (DD) is defined as a cognitive and/or physical impairment, diagnosed before adulthood, that affects an individual's ability to function in daily life. Those with DDs often have deficits in self-care, receptive or expressive language, and learning. Examples of DDs include autism, Down syndrome, and mental retardation. The pervasive nature of DDs requires highly specialized, interdisciplinary treatment and services. Goals are the backbone that support the remediation of the core issues related to developmental disabilities. They provide reliable tools to achieve and measure progress. But do not proceed directly to "GO" and simply begin writing goals. There is preliminary information that must be obtained before appropriate goals can be created, and then time must be taken to ensure that the goals truly reflect the individual's needs.

Begin with a complete picture. Gather all the information possible, including psychological evaluations, standardized tests, assessments from professionals (occupational therapists, speech therapists, teachers, etc.), and information from parents and other caretakers.

Assess strengths and needs. Goals for the developmentally disabled should focus on minimizing weaknesses and maximizing strengths. You must have a clear vision of what this means, so create a list that outlines the individual's strengths and weaknesses.

Target the issues. Synthesize all the information to create a list of issues to be addressed. More than one issue may be targeted as developmental delays include a range of deficits requiring support and remediation, such as academics, cognitive delays, behavioral skills, emotional issues, self-regulation, self-help skills, and social and communication skills.

Prioritize the issues. In the school environment there will be multiple issues being addressed simultaneously. At home it may be necessary to target one or two specific goals at a time.

Write an objective for each issue. Objectives should describe the desired end result … what is to be accomplished? These help to paint the big picture. For example: "Every morning Suzy will brush her teeth without help or prompting."

Write the goals. Goals are the steps that everyone on the team must follow in order to achieve the objective 1. Goals should meet two criteria: They must be specific and measurable. Specific: Identify small, concrete steps necessary to reach the goal. Qualify how each step will be achieved – state where the work will occur, when and with whom, define the level of support required for success, the number of prompts required, and rewards to be given. Measurement: How can this task be measured in a meaningful way? Specify the type of measurement, frequency (specific amount of time or percentage of trials), levels of prompts, time parameters, and success markers. For skills that are difficult to measure, such as self-control, describe what needs to be observed.

Implement the plan and evaluate the data. The information that is being collected needs to be analyzed on a regular schedule. Depending on the goal, this may be necessary daily, weekly or monthly. The key is to assess the data frequently enough to identify when an intervention is not working so that steps can be taken to change the approach. On the positive side, progress is sometimes so minimal or takes so long to achieve, that the only way it is noticed is by evaluating the data. This is a great way to motivate and celebrate progress.


Here's an example of a bad goal: By the end of the semester Susie will do grade-level math. A better goal would be: Given five single-digit addition problems, the correct answer will be written for three out of the five. Notice that in this case, the answers must be written, but they could be verbal or even typed on a computer keyboard. These are the types of details that should be included in the goals.

Remember that continuity is the key. Everyone working with the person for whom the goals are being created must be able to use these goals to ensure consistent teaching and reinforcement of specific skills.


Goals are not an option. They are absolutely necessary to teach the skills that will make the difference in quality of life for those with developmental disabilities.

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