Families who receive early intervention services participate in the development of the Individualized Family Support Plan (IFSP). The IFSP is the document that describes the family’s resources, priorities, and concerns and identifies the support plan for the family. The outcomes on the IFSP determine the focus of the support plan as well as services that will help meet the needs of the family and child. Similar to other benchmarks, the outcomes on the IFSP need to be objective and measurable and time specific. They also must describe how the child’s participation in activities and routines will be enhanced. Outcomes are more than skill development goals. Outcomes must clearly indicate what the child is expected to do or would like to do.
Let’s set up two examples of outcome writing.
Johnny is a two-and-a-half year old boy who is having difficulty communicating his wants and needs. His family would really like him to talk more. Sometimes his parents have to go through a whole litany of foods to find out what he would like to eat. Johnny’s parents told the IFSP team that it would make meal time more fun if he could only tell us what he wants!
To help the family with their concern the IFSP team developed a variety of outcomes that they thought would be appropriate.
- In 3 months, Johnny will use a gesture or word to make a choice between two food items during breakfast and lunch each day.
- In 3 months, Johnny will label 10 pictures of food correctly for 7/10 trials.
- In 6 months, Johnny will increase his vocabulary by saying 15 new words.
- In 6 months, Johnny will use a single word to request his cup throughout the day when he is thirsty.
Which of these outcomes do you think best meets the needs of the family? Why?
Let’s look at these outcomes closely to see which ones are examples of outcomes to include on the IFSP.
- This outcome gives a time frame (3 months) for when the outcome is expected to be met and clearly states who the outcome is about (Johnny). This outcome is measurable in that Johnny will need to perform this skill consistently during 2 meals each day. When Johnny meets this outcome, it will be helpful for his family because they will know what he wants to eat.
- This outcome is time specific, child-focused, and measurable. Let’s look closer at the “measurability” piece of this outcome. Labeling 10 pictures of foods correctly for 7/10 trials is certainly an objective measure, but how likely is it that Johnny’s parents only want him to use words 70% of the time? When we examine the helpfulness of this outcome, we see that it is lacking here as well. Naming 10 pictures of foods is unlikely to be helpful to the family because it lacks context. It does not address Johnny’s ability to communicate that he wants a certain food, only to name a picture of a food
- This outcome also gives a time frame (6 months) and clearly states that Johnny is the person the outcome is about. This outcome is measureable–We know Johnny will have met this outcome when he has 15 new words. However, this outcome may or may not be helpful for the family. Johnny’s new words could be anything from animals to names of family member’s. Also, Johnny could achieve this outcome without ever learning to use his words to communicate his wants and needs. While this outcome is measurable and gives a specific time frame, it is not very helpful for the family and would not help Johnny increase participation in routines.
- Like outcome #1, this outcome meets our criteria for a good outcome. It is measurable (Johnny will use a single word to request his cup when he is thirsty. This would be helpful for the family because they would no longer have to guess if Johnny is thirsty or hungry or neither. We know that we expect Johnny to meet this outcome in the next 6 months. This outcome reflects Johnny learning in a natural context.
Writing IFSP outcomes can be challenging. Teams want to write them in family friendly language and in plain terms, so everyone will know what the outcome is and why it is important to the family and when it should be reached. Writing good outcomes takes practice. There are a few hints that you may find helpful when your team creates outcomes with families:
- Who (usually the child, may be the family or caregiver, NEVER the interventionist)
- Will do what (the desired behavior)
- How measured (objective criteria)
- Under what conditions (are modifications, adaptations, accommodations needed)
- In what routines/activities
- When (time frame)
Click this link to the ECTA Center for more resources on writing outcomes.
Jamie Holloway, PT, DPT, PCS