Jackie Bartell returns this week to discuss how to incorporate Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) Model goals into your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) at school. Jackie is a retired Special Educator in Rochester, NY and a trainer with the International Council on Development and Learning (ICDL). She has extensive experience with IEPs that can cause a lot of stress for parents.

Parents tend to expect the school to take care of our children’s education and yet sometimes our goals are not explicitly stated in the IEP. When we are using a Developmental Approach with our children, we want to see those developmental goals in the IEP. But when schools start to target goals for children, Jackie says, they’re looking at the observable behaviour instead of looking at the things that need to come beneath that observable behaviour in order for the child to be successful.

Incorporating DIR Goals into the Individual Education Plan (IEP) with Jackie Bartell

by Affect Autism

Using DIR Language in an IEP

For example, a child might be having a hard time lining up between classes. The reason why is the thing underneath that observable behaviour, which might be a sensory challenge the child has. Jackie says we need to determine where the breakdown is happening with the child, and pinpoint that, rather than the observable behaviour of not being able to line up with the other kids. The question becomes how we take the language of the DIR capacity and translate it into the language for the IEP.

In our example, it might be that Johnny hasn’t yet mastered his Foundation Academics–namely here, the capacity to plan and sequence the steps required to stand in line. This might look something like, “Johnny will be able to sequence a set of steps with 90% accuracy 4 times in a session” rather than “Johnny will line up with 90% accuracy at least 4 times in a session“. This is taking the language of the fourth functional emotional developmental capacity about being able to sequence and putting it into the language of the IEP.

‘Capacities’ versus ‘Levels’

You can find the sample document shared in the podcast in the following enclosed box which starts by describing the Functional Emotional Developmental Capacities that we aim to foster in our children’s development, based on the DIR Approach. Jackie points out that the language of ‘capacities’ rather than ‘levels’ is important because you don’t finish one capacity, check it off, and move on to the next one. What impacts where we are functioning in this developmental model is impacted by how we are able to process the sensory information in our environment.

Jackie says we have to be mindful that a child can be functioning in one capacity in one moment but then move in and out of it, so as we think about goals for children, we have to think about that individualized profile of how they manage the sensory information in their world. First, we want to determine where the child is developmentally in terms of these capacities; second, what is their sensory processing profile and how does this impact their capacities, and finally, let’s translate the goals we want to focus on into IEP language. These are the things a parent needs to identify to determine what a goal should look like.

Sample Document

CLICK HERE to view and/or download a sample document with the DIR developmental capacities and some IEP goals for a fictitious child as an example.

Where are the challenges that make engaging and relating difficult for the child?

I gave an over-the-top example to make my point that I shared in my last podcast with Maude Le Roux about walking into a room with an overwhelming smell of feces, for instance. This would so overwhelm my capacity to function that I would not be able to focus on anything else. Jackie said we have to realize our children are having similar experiences throughout the day where their sensory systems are being overloaded and this diminishes their functioning in these capacities. They might be more subtle things than smells, bright lights, or loud sounds that we don’t even notice ourselves.

Neurotypical brains can filter out and organize incoming sensory input much of the time, but our children might need to use all of their available energy simply on filtering out sensory input, which deeply challenges their capacities in that moment. In the Sample document you can access in the box above, under Individual differences, there are some descriptions of a fictitious child and what they tend to seek or avoid, along with some examples of accommodations or strategies to try to support these differences.

Jackie goes back to our example of an IEP goal around lining up. A child might require proprioceptive input in order to help with transitions throughout the day. If the IEP simply states a goal of improving lining up, they will only address the behaviour of not lining up rather than being proactive with the child requiring proprioceptive input before transitions, including lining up. If the child doesn’t have the capacity to sequence, a visual strategy to show the child what will happen in advance still won’t help them be able sequence.

Sensory Lifestyle

Check out the podcast with Virginia Spielmann about a Sensory Lifestyle for our children which is really more deliberate than a sensory diet that is consistent throughout every day. Our children don’t know what they need to stay regulated like some of us know we need coffee when we wake up, for instance. 

It’s about feeling safe emotionally and physically.

Jackie Bartell

A sensory diet/lifestyle sets the child up for a good day, Jackie says. When these things go in IEPs in the Management section, it needs to be clearly stated that this will happen consistently throughout the day, not just when there’s a problem, just like we feed children at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, not when they tell us they are hungry. We always want to be proactive.

Placing of Goals in the IEP

Jackie points out that in the IEP under Goals, it tends to be broken down into cognitive goals, communication goals, physical movement goals, and social-emotional goals. Any goal we have discussed could fit under one or more sections, or an ‘other’ section. We want all staff at the school to be aware of the child’s developmental functioning, their Individual differences and how these impact on their capacities, and have a solid Relationship with the child.

Jackie says that this process is a step we can take to work with the school in understanding how to be proactive with our children–as Dr. Stuart Shanker discusses–by intervening before they become dysregulated. It introduces school staff to the idea of our child’s requirements that set them up for success rather than steps to take once they fail.

Thank you to Jackie Bartell for taking the time to share her knowledge about IEPs with us, and specifically around including DIR language and goals into the IEP. If you found this useful, please share this post on Facebook and/or Twitter and feel free to Comment below!

Until next time, here’s to affecting autism through playful interactions!

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