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How to Integrate Sensory Goals into a Child's IEP

written by: Sharon Dominica • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 9/11/2012

Children with autism have specific sensory issues, that need to be addressed in order to help them learn. Here's how you can create sensory integration IEP goals that are defined in terms of time, number or results.

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    Sensory integration (SI) is the process of collecting information from all your senses, and processing it in the right way. Dysfunction in this process can lead to behaviors include spinning, rocking, hand flapping and hyperactivity, which can interfere with learning and social functioning. Sensory Integration therapy aims at helping children to regulate and process this type of information in the right way, thus reducing a lot of behaviors caused by it.

    It is not practical for a child to attend SI therapy every day, and thus, integrating sensory goals into the IEP is the best way to ensure that the child is getting a complete intervention.

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    SI Assessments and Recommendations

    Sensory integration assessments are usually done by a therapist. They assess the child’s response to different sensory input including visual, tactile, olfactory, vestibular, proprioceptive, gustatory and auditory. Based on these, the therapist may suggest ideas that can be integrated into the child’s overall goals.

    Sensory integration recommendations usually consist of activities or adaptations that aim at regulating these experiences for the child, and thus improving the child’s academic performance in the long run. Some examples are:

    Visual: Working in a dark room or space; using a guide to follow words in a book; using large sized fonts in books and worksheets; using a task light to improve concentration.

    Auditory: Using earplugs for individual work or in crowded places like the cafeteria; listening to music at rest time; eliminating background noise in the classroom by shutting windows and using thick curtains.

    Proprioceptive: Using a weighted pen; wearing weighted wristbands; 15 minutes on the trampoline at recess; writing while lying on the floor; weight bearing on elbows.

    Vestibular: Sitting on a therapy ball during class; taking a walk between classes; running around the field at recess; sending the child for small "chores" that will require them to walk; gym session everyday.

    Tactile: Using a pencil grip; doing tactile activities like finger painting; play dough; making mud castles; drawing letters on sand with the fingers.

    Olfactory: Spraying a little perfume on the inner part of the forearm.

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    Converting Recommendations into Goals

    To convert recommendations into goals you have to consider them in a functional context. For example, if the child has been asked to sit on a ball chair for class, the functional context is that it will help the child to concentrate longer at the task. Next, we need to define this activity further by fixing a time goal, for example sitting for 10 minutes on a therapy ball and concentrating on the activity. For some goals, you may need to define it in terms of a number, like using earplugs to read 10 pages. In some other cases, you can make goals in terms of an expected result, like showing a 50% improvement in writing skills while using a weighted pen and weighted wristbands. Finally, you need to ensure that these goals fit into the overall long term IEP goals of the child.

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    Long-Term and Short-Term Goals

    Establishing long and short-term goals based on a therapist's recommendation will help the student to achieve success in all of their academic subject areas. For example, a therapist uses the sensory recommendations as outlined above to create the IEP in this manner:

    Long-Term Goal: The child will show improvements in attention and written work.

    Short-Term Objectives:

    - The child will stay focused on learning tasks for 20 minutes while being seated on a therapy ball.

    - The child will use a weighted pen for writing one page every day.

    - The child will use earplugs and work independently for 20 minutes.

    - The child will be given an opportunity for a 5 minute walk every hour after which he will sit and work for 20 minutes.

    Once you've made these goals, you can plan activities based on them and periodically evaluate the progress of the child in the varying areas.

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    Biel, L. (2006). Sensory Issues and the IEP. Retrieved from Developmental Delay Resources:

    Kramer, P. (1999). Frames of Reference for Pediatric Occupational Therapy. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.