As we prepare to head back to school, Liz reminds us of the importance of IEP goals being the child’s goals, not a discipline specific goal!
Seamless IEPs – Student Goals vs. OT Goals
by Elizabeth Bentz OTD, OTR/L, SIPT
When I first began my career as a school OT eighteen years ago, I believed I could do it all. With the COTAs, our enthusiasm and magic wands, we could treat every student, climb over every wall, break down those barriers to participation. That was the fun part. The not so fun adventure was the avalanche of paperwork that continued to bury us along the way. Documentation, weekly notes, ACCESS billing, parent communications, IEP development, classroom programs, progress monitoring goals, goals, goals. All necessary. All part of the job. During those marathon OT sessions, every step needed to be paved with a paper trail, evidence that we were there with the student working hard to reach those OT goals.
While my team and I were eager to share the stories about our student’s journey, the harried teachers who were stressed and weighed down with their own mountain of forms, just wanted our IEP input for those OT goals. Despite positive outcomes during occupational therapy, the student would be unable to replicate those stellar marks in the classroom. This disconnect between participation in OT and in the class setting became another obstacle to overcome. I had to find a way to bridge this gap because it didn’t matter how wonderfully the student worked for us. If he or she could not succeed in the classroom, OT would continue indefinitely. The marathon would turn into a race on a hamster wheel. I had to get us off this wheel.
Ultimately, the goals are about the student. They are not about OT, PT, Speech, the teachers, or the vision and reading specialists. But this becomes the norm when parents and advocates want goals written into the IEP specifically identified by each discipline. We are now left with a Rubik’s cube IEP with parts and boundaries, a “this is mine and this is yours” approach, rather than a seamless individualized education plan supporting the student’s ability to engage and learn. In the school setting, occupational therapy is supportive. Education is the primary service. Aiming towards this direction, we collaborated with the team to create student goals, not OT goals. Initially, we were met with resistance. The COTAs and I had to break through the mentality of “this is how we’ve always done it”. It was a tough uphill climb, but eventually we made it over the hump to show the IEP team successful and relevant student outcomes where we support the teacher, the student, and the IEP goals instead of creating separate OT objectives. The federal regulations are clear that “IDEA does NOT require goals to be written for each specific discipline or to have outcomes and measurements on a specific assessment tool”. This can be found on page 46662 in the U.S. Department Education’s publication Assistance to States for Education of Children with Disabilities and Preschool Grants for Children with Disabilities (2006b).
While the law indicates that separate discipline goals are not required, it also does not prohibit it. If the school team decides that the OT will be solely responsible for a particular objective, that is what will be written into an IEP. We have learned to avoid these tripping stones by defining our role as a related service provider. When the teacher asks us, “where are your OT goals”, we identify the student goals on the IEP that we will help them achieve. Our goals are their goals. We are going to cross that finish line together with the student…as a team.
Elizabeth Bentz OTD, OTR/L, SIPT