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Learn More About Outcomes and Goals


If you have a young child with a disability, you’ve probably heard the terms “family outcomes” or “child goals.” But do you really know what they mean? Many parents don’t, even though they encounter the phrases in their Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings.

Tammy Hausken, whose 14-month-old son, Nathan, has Down syndrome, was one of those parents. “I had no idea what family outcomes meant,” she admits. In fact, in the beginning, “I had no idea what his IFSP plan really meant or how to use it.” It’s a common situation for parents new to the world of disability.

“Then, as I got to know Nathan better, a light bulb went on,” she says. She realized that Nathan had things he wanted to accomplish. Family outcomes, she realized, were simply things that she wanted her family to be able to do to enhance Nathan’s development and help him achieve those things.

“Nathan is a delightful child and a lot of fun,” Tammy explains. “He likes to be mobile because he’s social, and he showed signs he wanted to climb stairs. I thought his legs were too short, but his physical therapist showed me how to position his legs on the steps. He figured it out in a day.” Now he can crawl up the stairs himself at naptime, bedtime, and for diaper changes. “He learned not only a skill, but a daily living skill,” Tammy says.

Receiving such information and support to help a child develop is what family outcomes are all about for people with children from birth to age 3. Families can learn to use the child’s everyday activities and routines to enhance developmental skills such as crawling, walking, eating, and talking. For the Hauskens, climbing stairs is just the beginning. “Nathan really wants to walk,” Tammy says. “He shows more and more signs of that. I also believe he truly wants to communicate. He tries very hard. He doesn’t have the fine motor skills to sign yet, but he’ll move my fingers to indicate ‘more.’”

Like Tammy, Beth Praska understands how perplexing early childhood special education terminology can be. She also realizes how valuable everyday routines can be in helping her child develop. As a mother of a 5-year-old with disabilities and as a kindergarten teacher, she sees the issue of “outcomes” and “goals” from a personal and a professional perspective.

When Jake was born, he seemed to be developing typically. By the time he was 18 months old, however, his parents noticed a drop in his growth. After some tests, they learned he had an addition on his seventh chromosome that was affecting several areas of development. “It was all very shocking, and we didn’t know what to expect. We just went day to day,” Beth says. Besides his delayed growth, Jake has delayed speech, fine and gross motor challenges, and “lots of sensory problems,” Beth says. When he was about 2, they contacted the school, had him tested, and received an IFSP.

Family outcomes focused on things “like helping him learn to move, use words, feed himself. Simple things that many people take for granted,” Beth says. When he turned 3, “there was a smooth transition from his IFSP to his IEP,” she says. The focus then shifted to “child goals.” “I didn’t know what that meant,” Beth acknowledges. Now, however, she is developing a clearer vision.

“Jake now has more specific goals,” Beth explains, and they are about helping him gain skills that lead to more independence. “His goals have a lot to do with separating from me. We also have goals that he can communicate with other people. He learned sign language for ‘more,’ and then the word came. He now speaks in complete sentences and is working on conversational skills. He also has goals to do simple things like putting his coat away in his cubby, so he can take care of himself.”

Even though she is a kindergarten teacher, “special education was very new to me,” Beth says. She’s learning more about it, however. This past year she had one student in her class who had an IEP. “He needed a lot of reminders to stay on task—just like Jake,” she says. “Having him in the class has helped when I’ve gone to Jake’s IEP meetings. I can talk about how he’ll be able to function in the classroom.”

For both families, understanding family outcomes and child goals didn’t come intuitively. It came by seeking information from PACER and other resources. “You can’t be afraid to call an organization or other parents and say, ‘Tell me what you know,’” Tammy says. “PACER helped me understand what we were entitled to in our plan and services,” she adds. “We learned how to create the plan and what should be in it.”

Gaining that kind of knowledge and understanding of the language of early childhood special education allows you to work more effectively with the team to accomplish better outcomes for your child. It’s a good result for everyone.

What Are They?

Family outcomes are benefits you experience as a result of the services and supports that your family receives. They include such things as understanding your child’s strengths, abilities, and special needs; helping your child learn and develop; having confidence in your ability to make decisions about your child’s services; having support systems; and receiving desired services, programs, and activities in your community.

Child goals refer to your child’s progress in gaining specific developmental or pre-academic skills. These proficiencies may include such things as walking, talking, effective social and interpersonal abilities, and preliteracy skills.