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Before You Set Goals

At the beginning of a school year it may be tempting to use prior assessments and reporting documents as a guideline to your student’s current “entry skills”. However, this is problematic.

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have difficulty accessing prior learning and applying what they have learned in new situations. The mixture of

  • a new classroom and teacher,  
  • the stress of transition back to school the long holiday, and
  • the length of the recent break from learning routines

can combine to have a great influence on what the student is able to do and may contribute to the student appearing to have “gone backwards” when they return to school in the new year. End-of-year assessments from last year only provide a rough indication of where to pitch the student’s program.

In order to set appropriate, realistic goals, it’s necessary to assess your student thoroughly, to gain an in-depth understanding of the student’s current abilities and knowledge. For advice on adapting assessment tasks for students with ASD, click here.


Some Areas to Assess

  • Ability to hear and remember verbal instructions - there are several simple assessments available that will give you a rough idea of how much the student is actually taking in when others speak to them. The results of these assessments will help teachers to design appropriate lessons and break verbal instructions into workable pieces.
  • Stamina for sitting at a desk and writing - This will have an impact on the student’s ability to complete some tasks. Lesson design can be adapted to provide the student with physical breaks and alternative ways to engage with curriculum.
  • Co-operative learning skills - Is the student currently able to work with a partner or small group to complete an activity? If not, which social/communication skills would be helpful for the student to work towards this ability? These skills are appropriate learning goals.
  • Existing skills/knowledge which the student does not apply in new situations/contexts - A suitable learning goal may be to transfer and apply a particular skill in another context.

Abilities Based Learning and Education Support (ABLES)

ABLES is a collection of online assessment tools which are very helpful for developing a picture of the student’s current skills and abilities. After completing a series of questionnaires about a student, the teacher is provided with a list of appropriate teaching strategies and suggested learning goals. Because these suggested goals are generic, the “outcome targets” supplied by the tool may not be appropriate for individual students.  Information gleaned from the ABLES assessments provides a starting point for goal-setting, but it is strongly suggested that the teacher: 

  • conduct other assessments,
  • consider their in-depth knowledge of the individual student, and
  • apply professional judgement. 

This will ensure that the student’s goals and program are based on the strongest possible evidence base.