IEP Goals for students with significant cognitive disabilities

Last Updated on October 12, 2023 by Editorial Team

Learning disabilities are not restricted to discomfort with numbers and language only. If you dissect these issues deeply, you will find other co-morbidities working behind the scenes too. Difficulty in reasoning, comprehending, or ascertaining orientation or inability to take care of the self, which is what cognitive disability sums up as, is the result of such issues.

Understandably, the learning requirements of such students are different and of a vivid nature. To keep up with these special learning needs, the institutes have rolled out inclusive models of education. They adopt a slow-paced, and well-directed approach through IEP goals formulation and implementation. We learned about IEP goals for learning comprehension and number literacy in our previous posts. Let’s take a look at IEP goals to boost cognitive abilities in children with special education needs.

You must be aware that IEP is a well-planned and systematically written program prepared through mutual consultation with the parents and teachers. These individualized education programs outline the resources, learning requirements, and goals to attain in a given time frame. With a well-directed education plan that enables teachers and parents to work together, ensuring considerable academic accomplishments for students with LDs becomes easy. 

Why is IEP important?

Before the IDEA was passed in 1975, students with disabilities were forced to follow a curriculum designed for all. Children denied education due to a lack of requisite grasping powers was a common sight.

IEPs have changed the situation for the better. These offer an organized plan for the student’s academic progress, allowing them to attain capabilities that can help them live a life of self-sustenance and with better confidence as an adult. 

With improvement in understanding of needs, IEPs have become more enriched. While the number sense, and number recognition IEP goals or reading or vocabulary IEP goals strengthen basic skills, the cognitive abilities IEP goals touch the other aspects of building overall intelligence in children. Let’s take a look at IEP goals for students with needs for boosting cognitive discrimination in this post.

Goals for students with cognitive disabilities 

Contrary to popular assumptions, students with significant cognitive disabilities can perform well in academics, which is why these abilities fail to come to the fore and remain disguised. While charting an IEP for a student with learning disabilities, it must always be kept in mind that the degree and kind of a specific disability can vary greatly. Some measurable IEPs for cognition impairment are:

  1. VARK (visual, auditory, read-write, kinesthetic):
  • Student A will be able to associate object names with pictures. (visual),
  • differentiate one letter or number from another (uppercase and lowercase),
  • repeat or write down the words spoken to the child, (auditory),
  • feel and explain concepts like ‘fast and slow; ‘high and low’, ‘before after’, etc. (kinesthetic)

2. Math Reasoning: The child will apply math in basic daily activities like:

  • counting money,
  • time-keeping,
  • planning jump height,
  • deciding safe distance, etc.

3. Oral Communication: As a part of social skills development, the child will:

  • make five correct questions with appropriate words to get information.
  • answer using appropriate vocabulary, prosody, and expression.
  • express correct verbal response to a weeping friend, or a friend in trouble.

4. Listening Comprehension: These goals for cognitive improvement will comprise:

  • comprehending what is told to them, through actions like following two-step directions,
  • using prior knowledge to answer questions,
  • drawing conclusions, and
  • asking questions.

5. Working Memory: How to use memory to improve cognition includes IEPs such as

  • Recall names, events, or a part of a story or paragraph they heard a few days ago.
  • Recalling birthdays, test days, or other days of importance is useful for daily work.
  • Solving daily life problems by applying math

6. Adaptive behavior: The child will do :

  • Self-care – bathing, dressing up, grooming activities on their own.
  • He will eat with no help.
  • He will show readiness to participate in community activities.
  • He may demonstrate how he will handle an emergency situation, use of 911 number, etc.

7. Occupational Therapy: These are IEP goals that train the student, making them capable of getting employed. Including skills that can help students become self-dependent as grown-ups. The assessment experts identify real talents in the child and offer training to hone those instinctive or natural skills of children with special needs.

All these are broken into discrete activities with the target date and extent of proficiency mentioned.

Things to consider while writing IEP for cognitive impairment

  1. IEP goals must be specific. Ambiguities should be avoided.
  2. The objectives must be expressed in terms of specific measurable behavior.
  3. IEP goals should be small, realistic, and progressive.
  4. A definite time limit specified by a certain date must be assigned to every goal.
  5. Action words have to be used.


The key to the academic success of a student with significant cognitive disabilities lies in the thorough implementation and assessment of IEP goals. Implementation does demand individualized attending and teaching. It also comprises special designing of instructions based on the individual student’s requirements and strengths. This kind of individualization can be made only with the help of IEPs, making them an absolute necessity in the curriculum of students with special needs. 

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