IEPs & 504 Plans

Get Specific and Set Goals: Writing IEPs That Work

Want to write an effective IEP? Learn how knowing your child’s ADHD symptoms, setting goals for the school year, and specificity can ensure your child will get the academic accommodations he needs.

Teacher assisting little girl with ADHD at school
Teacher assisting little girl with ADHD at school

Individualized education programs (IEPs) outline the specific academic accommodations that parents, teachers, administrators, and ADHD students themselves agree will help bring greater success in school.

IEPs can include anything from extra exam time to special seating to homework modifications, and anything in between. Follow these steps to write the best plan for your child with attention deficit disorder or learning disabilities.

Step 1: Know the ADHD Symptoms

Memorize the list of ADHD symptoms psychiatrists use for diagnosis. Knowing the list of symptoms such as inattention, forgetfulness, or interrupting can help you prevent your child from being punished or discriminated against when he displays the symptoms of his attention deficit disorder.

Step 2: Know Where Your Child Struggles

Determine the specific ways that your child’s ADHD symptoms affect her at school. For example, does she forget to turn in her homework? Does she fail to follow directions? Is she impulsively aggressive on the playground? Prepare a list of the specific problems you see, and read up on strategies that address them.

Step 3: Prepare Yourself

Come to the IEP meeting with the list of your child’s symptoms, as well as a list of interventions such as sitting the child closer to the teacher or instructions that you would like the school to provide.

Step 4: Set Goals for the Year

While at the IEP meeting, you should also work with the school to develop a list of specific, measurable, and achievable goals for the school year. These goals should be set to time limits: Johnny will improve his ability to respond to the teacher from 1 out of 10 times to 8 out of 10 times by the semester break; Johnny will reduce his interruptions from 10 times a day to 2 a day by month 3; Julie will be able to decode words at the 50th percentile as measured by the “Evaluation of Basic Skills.”

Step 5: Get Specific

Be clear about the ways in which the school will teach your child to achieve the goals you’ve set together – and include them in the IEP. “Every misbehavior signifies the need for instruction,” says education advocate Dixie Jordan. Have the school write into the IEP exactly how they’ll teach Johnny to follow directions or stop interrupting. Which services will help Julie attain higher reading scores? If these strategies aren’t written into the IEP, you can’t enforce them.

Step 6: Ask for Evidence

If the school insists on certain interventions, ask for written evidence that what they’re suggesting is effective. “If you have an inattentive child and the teacher says, ‘Johnny, pay attention,’ you’re not going to get good results,” says Jordan. “Johnny doesn’t know how it feels to pay attention. Someone needs to break down the steps and teach the child how to pay attention and how to filter out distractions.