The Characteristics of Effective Needs Statements

a workshop presented to
York Region ASO, Oct 23, 2001

Comhnadh Consulting
92 Cumberland Crescent, London, Ontario N5X 1B6 
(519) 660-0493 FAX (519) 660-1491


Characteristics of "ineffective" Needs Statements

VAGUE:                          "If you don't know what it means, you can't hold anyone accountable"

GLOBAL:                         "If it is general, it can't be quantified"

QUALIFIED:                  "Extra help, as available" means NOTHING

NOT QUANTIFIED:      How frequently will it occur? Once a day? Once a term? Once a year?

FACT, NOT NEED:         If it "is", then it isn't a needs statement

PROGRAM-DRIVEN:      Promises something that we have available, rather than something we need

NON-PRIORITY:           Is it REALLY what the student needs???

Characteristics of EFFECTIVE Needs Statements






Address an Immediate Priority


Some Needs Statements to critique...

$ Joanne needs to have one-on-one adult supervision at all times throughout the school day. Due to limited resources we are unable to provide more than a half day EA. The parents are responsible to provide afternoon coverage...or keep Joanne home.

$ Chad needs ongoing monitoring and assistance with toileting. He needs to be assisted in going to the toilet, at hourly intervals. When necessary, he is to be cleaned and changed discreetly. Charting for the Encopresis Clinic (CPRI) is to be maintained (see guideline) and sent home weekly.

$ Craig needs to be integrated at least 50% of the time.

$ Sally requires a deliberate program to integrate her socially with his peers. Written guidelines for the creation of peer interaction opportunities will be developed by Mr. Helpew and the parents by March 31, 1998.

$ Lisa is a personable child who has many friends, despite her physical challenges. Others are always eager to play with her. She is a pleasure to teach and I will continue to support her social development.

$ Paul needs to have the attached treatment plan for OT/PT implemented on a consistent and timely basis. The plan lays out the shared responsibility of Health, Education and parents, consistent with PPM 81. This treatment plan is to be reviewed and amended at a case conference no later than May 31, 1998. This conference is to be called by the principal.

$ Emily needs to be encouraged to make her needs known to the adults around her. Staff often are unable to decipher her limited communication and therefore are frustrated.

$ Assistance and support with all school activities will be provided for Scott, within the staffing and budgetary restraints of the school. We remain fully committed to making his school life as successful as possible.

...the good IEP!!


    I was recently doing a workshop for a group of educational was a rather in-depth, intense workshop where we examined the characteristics of needs statements, and then followed up with “walking through” the entire process of developing the Individual Education Plan for a real student presented by the EA.  Obviously, for many of the participants, this was the very student they worked with on a day-to-day basis... they had a lot invested in the exercise!! During the process we constantly referred to “buzz words” such as clear, concise, measurable, evidential, and individual to help us identify good needs statements and strategies.  In fact, these words brought a knowing smile to our lips as we visited and revisited them throughout the day!

    About ten minutes from the end of our long, exhausting, intense time, I made a “fatal” pedagogical error... I asked a summative question!! ( Who can tell me when you know you have a good IEP?).  Honestly, I expected to hear back our “buzz words”.  An experienced Educational Assistant, smiled and said, “I know.”  The answer that was forthcoming was so unexpected and profound, that it was 45 minutes of spirited discussion before we left.

     She said, “ That’s easy......if it is a good IEP it will be on the desk, wrinkled and coffee stained...... all the bad ones are crisp, pristine and in a file.

    If you reflect on this statement you will get a picture of the process and its flaws.  Resource teachers generate pieces of paper because they are mandated or because the are needed to justify staffing or funding.   These are often generated from computer software without any editing, customizing or individualizing.  It must be very frustrating to spend precious time creating a piece of paper for a file!  These teachers are often exasperated when parents want to exercise their right to participate in this process....  But if the plan is used daily by the classroom teacher and the EA, if it is the result of meaningful consultation with the parent, if it clearly outlines what is to done and each person’s role, ONLY THEN is it worth the time and effort put in to its creation.

    So, is your IEP worthy of a “Tim Horton” ring??  Is it on the desk or in a file?  Is it a cooperative effort or is it spun out of a generic mold?

     Over the past year, the Ministry of Education has strengthened the requirements for IEP’s. They legislated new “Standards for the IEP” ( Nov 2000). There is no doubt in my find that the IEP is fast becoming the most important piece of paper in Special Education. Is yours “on the desk, wrinkled and coffee stained?”

“ Comhnadh Comments” may be reprinted in any not-for-profit newsletter issued by parents groups or community groups who support parents of exceptional children, provided that proper attribution is given.  As a courtesy, please send a copy of the newsletter to Comhnadh Consulting, 92 Cumberland Crescent, LONDON, Ontario Canada N5X 1B6

Miscellaneous Tips we Learned:

A The child with special needs has the right to be integrated with increasing levels of support, until the Board gathers enough evidence to prove it's not helping. (reference the Becky Till case)

A The system is designed to have you go away. REFUSE to go away!

A If you are told "there is nothing I can do", ask "who can I go see who can help me?"

A The following words must be used in a Needs Statement: Essential, Necessary, Required. Never use "...MAY be beneficial".

A Section 170.7 of the Education Act states that every board shall meet the needs of exceptional students.

A On December 14, 2001, look for the "Standards for Autistic Kids" on the Ministry Website.

A Funding for Special Education tells you exactly how much money the school board gets to meet your child's needs.

A School boards use indirect service models i.e.. CCAC for SLPs and OTs.

A If your school doesn't like your private OT or SLP, ask the Board's OT or SLP if they agree with whatever plan you've had drawn up. Professional conduct will prevent the Board's employees from bad-mouthing their privately-funded peers.

A Attention: It's up to you whether you send your child to JOKE/SK, but if you do, the board must provide special education services including the IPRC and IEP!

A The Board's IEP Generator Computer Program is a default, and the default cannot be edited, however it must be added to, and whatever is added must be editable. The Generator is purchased by the School Board and may have three columns: GOALS, STRATEGIES and HOW WILL WE KNOW IT IS WORKING?  The GOALS are simply setting a focus and contain 4 or 5 major things that need to happen. A good strategy for GOALS is to break skills into small steps and have the teacher let you know when each step is learned.

A The IPRC:        $ Determines the child's needs.

                             $ What is the child's exceptionality?

                             $ Where will s/he go to school?

                             $ Will s/he be in a regular or special class, etc?

A The IPRC is good for one year.

A The IEP is developed in conjunction with the parents. This is your RIGHT. You do not have to accept and sign an IEP that shows up in your child's book bag without your input.

A Please remember: Your child does not need an EA, your child needs supervision. These are two different things.


A The IEP is a living never ends.  When old goals are reached, revisit the IEP and set new ones!

5: August 11, 2002

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