If you ask parents of children with disabilities what they want for their children in the special education setting, you discover that, by and large, they want what parents of typically-abled children want. They want the best for their child. Whether that relates to the attention to solve complicated math problems or the coping skills to tolerate a crowded gymnasium during an assembly, most parents of children with disabilities have at least one desire in common. They want their child to develop the skills to function well in society. Parents want their children to make friends, to understand money, to communicate effectively in society, and to understand mass transit.
Fortunately, functional goals are covered by IDEA. 20 USC Section 1414. 34 CFR Section 300.307. The commentary to IDEA provides a great deal of guidance, particularly in describing “functional” goals as those referring “to skills or activities that are not considered academic or related to a child’s academic achievement.” Rather, functional goals are those within the “context of routine activities of everyday living.” Such goals are to be measured using evaluation procedures that meet the same stands are the other evaluation standards contained in the law. Commentary in the Federal Register, page 46661.
The federal law therefor very clearly and practically supports the inclusion of functional goals in a student’s IEP. After all, school is supposed to prepare students – all students- for life. Isn’t life academic and functional?
How does a parent or student advocate for such addition to an IEP? Consider the end game. In writing a future planning statement, parents should include goals for the year, but I find it important to also include some life-long goals. The goals for adulthood will set the stage and a plan for the school-aged years. Students considering post-secondary opportunities need social skills, independence, study skill development, and memorization strategies. Students heading to trade school may need fine motor practice, transportation ideas, or business management training. Once parents know where they are heading, they can develop a roadmap for the future.
Parents should then consider benchmarks that should be met in order to reach those adult-oriented goals.
Parents should also boil the list of suggested functional goals to one or two ideal goals. Once met, such goals can be revised, teased our further, or supplanted with new goals. Having a roadmap with adult-oriented goals will help parents think about annual goals and benchmarks.
Another consideration is build upon what is currently working at school. If a school has a wonderful peer-mentoring program, and the student needs to work on independence, perhaps a peer mentor could participate in mock haircuts, grocery store trips, and bus rides, focusing on the communication and interaction necessary to succeed in those everyday tasks. Similarly, if a school offers coffee in its cafeteria in the mornings, perhaps the same student could get extended school day services for social skill development during morning coffee with peers.
Because every child is unique, it is obviously very important to consider the goals of the individual student and his or her family and to develop unique, creative ways to facilitate both the academic and functional goals of the child in the school setting.