One of the most challenging things for new speech-language
pathologists seems to be writing treatment goals. These goals should drive
treatment, so they are important—but there is more to them than that.
We want goals to organize our treatment and make it more
linear, more hierarchical. We want our goals to be read as a path to
development or recovery: First do this, then move to this, and then go on to
that. This process is, after all, the essence of task analysis.
Speech and language development or recovery, however, is not
linear or even, in many instances, hierarchical. It is so much more—but that is
for another article. We also want our goals to address the clients' most
important needs and, in some cases, we are hard-pressed to figure out just what
is most important. We also need to have our goals fit in with guidelines that
our employers set and that often change frequently.
When writing goals, keep in mind that goals are supposed to
be SMART: specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and timely. One of my pet
peeves is goals like this one: "The client will improve his
receptive/expressive skills." This goal is not SMART: It is not specific and,
more important, it has no measurable component. In a report, you might say, "To
improve his receptive/expressive skills, the client will ... " But those
sentences are not goals and certainly are not SMART goals.
Many websites offer sample goals, but I have never found any
to be just quite right—they all need to be tweaked for the client. You can
certainly refer to goals on those websites, but you have the skills to write
You can use a template such as: "(Name) will improve (skill)
by (number) to (number) percent above baseline or (number) percent of the time
as measured by (type of assessment)"—or some such formula—but you need to fill
in everything from your own mental data bank. You can do this easily—and end up
with SMART goals—by answering some simple questions you ask yourself.
Goals are not a separate entity—they just put what you want
to do in treatment in writing. Ask the following questions for a start for your
- What are the client's communicative strengths and
- What skills contribute to the strengths?
- What skills are deficient and therefore contributing to the
- Which of client's skills can be used to compensate for deficiencies?
- Which skills can I actually help the client attain?
- What do I want to work on first? And now answer: Why do I
want to work on that first? That answer will help you determine if you have
made a viable choice.
- What tasks will I have the client complete or engage in to
work on the skill?
- What supports will I provide for the client?
When you have the answers to those questions you have the
"specific" for the goals.
Can you define the skill that will determine if the client
is doing what you want him to do and can you measure progress in that skill?
How will you measure progress? When will you consider the goal accomplished? If
you can answer all these questions, move on; if not, go back and adjust the
goal to something you know you can see or hear and, therefore, measure.
Do you think the client can actually accomplish the goal in
a year? If the answer is yes, move on. If the answer is no, go back and choose
something you think the client can accomplish within a reasonable timeframe.
Will attaining this goal serve a communicative function for
the client or will it just be something you can do with the client? Will it
serve a purpose in the client's life, taking into consideration the limits and
ramifications of the diagnosis and the client's cultural and social needs? In
the case of an individualized education program, does this goal serve to move
the child along to fulfill the Common Core standards? If the answer is yes,
move on. If not ... yes, you get the picture, go back and start again.
Does the goal contain a timeframe or a date for
accomplishing the goal? And can the goal be attained in that time frame?
Short-term objectives need to follow the same criteria. They should not just be
separate pieces of the overall task, but rather steps to getting to the long-term
What best facilitates treatment is knowing what you want the
client to do and knowing that your treatment is actually addressing this
objective. This knowledge also facilitates goal-writing. Use it to write your
goals. You have the skills. You need to convince yourself that you can use
them. When you keep that in mind, goal-writing can be simple.