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Creating Effective Behavior IEP Goals to Empower your Students

Behavior IEP goals are crucial for students with autism and other developmental disabilities. As a BCBA supporting educators in special education, I am excited to introduce this FREE behavior IEP goals and assessment guide. This comprehensive resource is designed to empower ABA therapists, BCBAs, and special education teachers with the tools they need to identify, teach, and track essential coping skills in their students. In this blog post I want to share with you the exact steps that I use when utilizing these tools in my classrooms!

Identifying Behavioral Skill Gaps

The first step is to conduct a thorough behavior skills assessment. This process helps pinpoint which coping skills your students are lacking. The guide includes a range of coping skills, ensuring you have a clear understanding of each student’s needs before writing behavior IEP goals. Instead of viewing behavior management as eliminating your learner’s problems, this skill assessment shifts your focus to teaching appropriate skills that can replace those challenging behaviors.

In the assessment, there is a column next to each skill for baseline data- this refers to whether or not the learner can already complete the skill. If they can consistently demonstrate the skill at a reasonable measure (e.g., 80%), then you can most likely move on to assessing another skill.

Once you identify skills the learner cannot consistently demonstrate, you have identified your future IEP goals, and can list the date that formal teaching begins (and eventually record when the skill is mastered). This becomes a running record of overall skill growth in behavioral areas that can travel with your student across school years.

Pro tip: Take your time with the assessment phase! Observing students in various situations can provide valuable insights into their current skill levels and coping mechanisms. We have all experienced students demonstrate a varied range of skills in any content area on their best or worst day (and everything in between!). Focus your attention on the skills that you notice your learner either cannot demonstrate at all yet or demonstrates inconsistently.

Writing Behavior IEP Goals

Writing effective IEP goals can be challenging, especially when targeting specific coping skills to replace behaviors. The free guide includes a bank for behavior IEP goals with clear and measurable, well-crafted goals tailored to the coping skills highlighted in the assessment.

Sample IEP Goal: When presented with the cue, “Let’s do our deep breathing,” student will complete 3 slow deep breaths in and out with absence of problem behavior (no whining, yelling, hitting, falling to floor, etc.). Student will complete this skill with 70% success over 3 consecutive days.

tpt newest covers 31 Creating Effective Behavior IEP Goals to Empower your Students

Within each IEP goal, you can then scaffold short-term objectives. For example, if you are targeting the skill of accepting “no,” you may scaffold your objectives in this way:

  1. Tolerating no with 3-4 alternative choices presented (e.g., “We can’t go outside right now, but do you want coloring, blocks, or books?”)
  2. Tolerating no with 1-2 alternative choices presented. (e.g., “We can’t go outside but do you want coloring instead?”).
  3. Tolerating no with 0 alternative choices presented (e.g., “We can’t go outside yet. Let’s get back to your worksheet.”).

Remember to customize each of your behavior IEP goals and objectives to fit the individual needs of YOUR students, ensuring they are realistic and achievable for each learner. Be mindful of their current skill levels and typical rate of progress. What takes one learner one month to master may take another learner one year to master- and that is okay! Focus on 1-3 priority goals for each learner to guarantee that you are not overwhelming them (or the teaching staff!).

Teaching Protocols

Once you’ve identified the areas that need improvement, the next step is to implement skill teaching protocols outlined in the behavior IEP goals. These protocols are designed to systematically teach students how to engage in effective coping strategies such as deep breathing or positive self-talk.

This free behavior IEP goal and assessment resource includes one sample teaching protocol for general coping skills such as deep breathing. You can use the sample protocol in the free guide as a model for writing your future skill protocols. Additionally, browse this larger resource which includes additional specific pre-made teaching protocols for even more behavior replacement skills such as waiting for preferred items or activities, tolerating changes, and tolerating being told “no” in response to requests.

In my experience, breaking down complex skills into smaller, manageable steps makes it easier for students to learn and retain new strategies. For example, you may want to teach one coping skill (e.g., deep breathing, squeezing a ball) at a time until the student is fluent with this replacement skill before moving on to systematic, daily practice of another skill. You also want to teach these skills in isolated, practice scenarios before asking any student to use this coping skill in a real-life scenario when they are truly stressed, agitated, or otherwise emotionally heightened.

Tracking Data

To monitor progress, the behavior IEP goals and assessment guide includes data tracking sheets. These sheets allow you to systematically record each student’s progress, noting both successes and areas that need further practice. Consistent data collection is crucial for adjusting your teaching methods and ensuring that the strategies you have chosen are effective.

When tracking data, you can choose between using various methods such as trial-by-trial data or probe data. Trial-by-trial data can be ideal when you are able to practice a skill multiple times per session or day (e.g., waiting for 5 seconds). Probe data, on the other hand, can be an invaluable tool to record a single opportunity- here you are circling (+) if the learner demonstrate the skill successfully or (-) if not. This is ideal to use with skills practiced less frequently, such as tolerating “no” in a real-life situation such as the playground being closed due to rain!

Pro tip: Regular data collection not only tracks progress but also highlights patterns that might indicate underlying issues or triggers for emotional responses. For example, I have had some students who could easily demonstrate coping skills, rather than engage in disruptive behaviors, in very specific scenarios (e.g., losing a card game in a small group classroom setting), but were unable to appropriately tolerate losing in a more physical game of football at recess! Noting these patterns gives me insight into where I should further focus my future teaching sessions and practice scenarios.

Making it work for you

The behavior IEP goals and assessment guides are designed to be flexible and adaptable to various educational settings. Whether you’re working one-on-one or in a group setting, the guide provides a structured approach to teaching and reinforcing essential coping skills. Click here to download this free guide which I hope becomes an important asset in your toolkit! By downloading, you are automatically signed up for my weekly email list that provides valuable behavior management and data tracking insights- feel free to unsubscribe any time. Empowering students with effective coping strategies not only helps them manage their emotions and reduce disruptive behaviors, but also sets them up for long-term success both academically and personally.


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