Intensive and early therapy can provide the best outcomes for your child, but it’s important to make sure that you are on the right track, as every child will have different needs and respond in different ways to different therapies. You and your family should work with your child’s therapist to set clear goals so that you can address your child’s needs and stay focused on the things you want them to achieve.
Because autism is a condition which affects a child’s social and behavioural development and can touch on so many aspects of your child’s daily activities, families can sometimes feel overwhelmed when thinking about how they will address education and socialisation for their child.
Setting achievable ‘SMART’ goals for your child’s progress is a very useful strategy which maintains focus on an outcome, setting up a target for your family, your therapist and your child to work towards together. It can also be very satisfying as you are able to see meaningful progress being made in your child’s development.
The most effective goals follow the SMART acronym: they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.
For example, one common goal that a family may identify is, for their child to learn how to eat independently.
Then, you break down your target into the SMART goal components. The SMART goal might be that, after two weeks, for one meal each day, your child is able to complete the meal without assistance.
This goal is SPECIFIC – because it talks about what you expect. It’s MEASURABLE – because you are nominating one meal per day; ACHIEVEABLE – by choosing just one meal a day you are putting less pressure on and for example, you may choose breakfast because it’s a smaller meal and perhaps your child is more enthusiastic about breakfast.
The goal is RELEVANT, because it’s a step towards independent eating, and it’s TIMELY because you know this will happen in two weeks.
HOW CAN THERAPISTS HELP IN THE GOAL SETTING PROCESS?
Your therapist can help you look at the stage that your child is at now, identify where you would like them to be, then help you break down the steps to get there.
Therapists can also help you to identify realistic goals and timeframes so that you’re not setting yourselves up to fail.
For example – a goal that your child will speak to you each day, may not be realistic in a non- verbal child who is not showing an interest in communication.
Some children may not talk until they are well into their primary years, for example. A therapist can work with you to determine how you can meet your needs with a realistic goal – for example, the therapist may find other ways that you can communicate with your child apart from verbal language, such as through pictures or signing.
STAGED GOAL SETTING
Goal setting can be staged, and can look at the long term, then break the ultimate aims down into smaller and more achievable steps.
By working with a therapist who is an expert in child development and the development of children with autism, you will be able to set realistic goals and then work with your provider to find out what you need so that you can help your child reach the next stage.
SMART goals allow your child to experience success and are motivating for children to continue to apply themselves to learning. Once a child and a family start to get momentum and experience success, they are motivated to keep going.
Children need to have an assessment within 18 months of the time that they start school, typically at age four and a half.
This reassessment can be a useful exercise, which shows what developmental milestones your child has achieved and can also serve as a ‘marker’ so that you can assess their continuing progress and find out how they have gone against the goals that you have set.