Setting Educational Goals for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

Instructor: Lisa Grillo

Lisa has taught students with disabilities for over twenty years and has a master's degree in special education.

Students with intellectual disabilities benefit significantly from setting relevant and attainable educational goals. This lesson explores four essential components in educational goal setting for students with intellectual disabilities.

Importance of Setting Goals

Andrew Carnegie once said, ''If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.'' Setting educational goals is important for students as they dream about and plan for their futures.

For students with intellectual disabilities who rely on support from their families, educational professionals, peers, and other adults in the community, setting educational goals may take place as a collaborative activity among all stakeholders. This group of individuals, or a student's support team, may consist of not only members of a student's individualized educational program (IEP) team but also adults and peers who have an active role in a student's educational development.

Process of Setting Goals

Setting goals is a major part of educational planning and may take place in a variety of settings, including the school, home, and community, and through IEP development and life skill activities. All goal-setting activities, however, should include the following components in order to help students with intellectual disabilities set relevant and attainable goals during the educational planning process.

Involve Students in Planning

Encourage students with intellectual disabilities to actively participate in their educational planning - like all students, they're capable of developing academic goals to bring their dreams to life. When students with intellectual disabilities participate in the goal-setting process, it allows them to develop skills such as independence and self-determination.


For example, a support team may design activities that help students identify their interests and strengths and then teach them how to use these interests and strengths to develop attainable goals. Effective ways of helping students identify aspects of their educational development that are important to them include community-based field trips, work experiences, and other performance-based learning opportunities.

For students with communication needs, using picture communication symbols (PCSs), assistive technology, and other augmentative communication devices are particularly useful in goal-setting activities. Speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, assistive technology specialists, school psychologists, and other professionals who specialize in developing students' communication needs through various approaches are also excellent resources when designing goal-setting activities.

Identify Specific Supports

When members of a support team come together to develop a student-centered educational plan, make sure that each team member is aware of one another's role and how they fit into the overall plan. For example:

  • Team members may collaborate to identify specific ways of helping a student reach his or her goals.
  • Parents may wish to work on a particular academic or adaptive behavior skill in the home.
  • Classroom teachers may prioritize a skill or competency when designing lessons.
  • Community partners may identify behavioral skills that align to and therefore support a particular educational goal.

Team members may also identify additional school and community resources they will seek to support students.

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