The Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is a plan that includes a list of specific goals for each child and any technology or materials that will help students reach those goals. Some children require the use of communication devices; these are often called AACs, or augmentative and alternative communication, which includes any form of communication other than oral speech, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. AACs include body language as well as devices with synthesized speech output. These tools can help children reach communication goals, and their use should be included in IEP goals.

Using Communication Devices

Operational skills include the technical aspects of using an AAC device. Some devices require the user to spell words letter by letter or to tap images on a screen, which triggers the device to synthesize or digitize auditory speech. A sample operational goal might be: “Student will turn his AAC device on without prompting 70 percent of the time” or “Student will carry his own AAC device with minimal prompting 90 percent of the time.” These kinds of goals place some responsibility on the student to have his device ready to use. Another operational goal could read, “Student will navigate to the home screen independently 80 percent of the time.” Because some AAC devices use touch screens and students can navigate from one subject to another, students need to learn to come back to the home screen to select another option from the main list.

Talking and Understanding

Linguistic goals include receptive and expressive language skills, such as expressing a need or want. For example, if a student wants a snack, many devices allow students to navigate to a picture of a banana; when the student taps the banana, the device might recite, “I want a banana.” A sample goal for this skill is “Student will independently use her communication device to request food with 90 percent accuracy.” This example is one of expressive language, when the student communicates ideas into words or sentences. Students also need to use AACs for receptive language, or the ability to understand language, as found in the sample goal “Student will use device to answer questions.” Benchmarks of this overarching goal could include “Student will use communication device to indicate a choice” or “When presented with a direction to describe an item, student will use communication device to describe the item four out of five times.”

Interacting With Others

Communication is essential for social interaction, and students with language difficulties might need to use AACs to talk with their peers. One such goal could read, “Student will use communication device to respond to social greetings from adults and peers within 10 seconds four out of five times.” Touch screen devices are common AACs, but students might also have a laminated paper book with pictures to use for communication. A sample goal for this AAC could read, “Student will request a toy from a peer by taking a picture from her communication book and giving it to her communication partner.” Other social skills to address in the IEP include changing a topic, acknowledging peers, answering a speaker or spontaneously greeting peers and adults.

Correcting Communication Breakdowns

Communication can be difficult, especially for students who require an additional tool, such as an AAC device. A student might tap the wrong icon on his touch screen device, for example, which could lead to misunderstanding. A sample goal might be “Student will use communication device to repair communication breakdown without teacher cueing at least once per day.” This goal would require the student to use the device to say something like “No, I don’t want that” or “I need a break.”

Writing Goals in the IEP

While you should not name specific tools or devices in your goals, you should mention in general that AAC devices should be used as a part of the goal. For example, students might use an iPad as a device, but it should be called a “communication device” in the goal and listed as “portable device with touch screen capability” in the “Supplementary Aids and Services” section of the IEP.