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Back-to-School Life Skills Reset for Autism

New school years can trigger anxiety and stress for many parents of children with autism.  However, if approached with the right knowledge, the beginning of the school year can also be an opportunity for peace of mind and and opportunity for improved programming.  If I had to choose just one thing for parents to understand, that’s right just ONE, it would be the Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP).

Understanding the PLAAFP, or the PLOP (Present Levels of Performance) is like knowing how to build a house and the foundation it’s built on.  The PLOP is the foundation of the IEP from which all IEP goals flow, and when you have an inappropriate PLOP, the IEP can be a FLOP!

What are the Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance?

Academic achievement refers to the skills students are expected to master in academic subjects like reading, writing, math, science and so on.

Functional performance is generally understood as skills or activities that are not considered academic. It is used in the context of routine activities of everyday living, or life skills, and considered that the range of functional skills is as varied as the individual needs of children with disabilities.

Why is the PLOP so important?

Through a variety of assessments, the PLOP captures the present academic and functional strengths and weakness, which then becomes the information hub from which all IEP goals flow.

Strengths are celebrated and demonstrate age or grade appropriate skills.  We typically don’t need goals addressing strengths. It is the weaknesses that generally demonstrate lagging skills that are not age or grade appropriate and since the goal of special education is to close the skill gap, these weaker areas become the basis for developing IEP goals.

If all of the student’s suspected areas of disability have not been assessed, or the present levels are not accurate, an IEP can built on a shaky foundation.

Is Your Child’s PLOP an Accurate Picture of Your Child’s Strengths and Weaknesses?

Nine times out of ten, in my experience, a much needed IEP goal may not be in the IEP because the area was either never assessed, or the area was assessed, but the need or weakness was not captured in the present levels.

It’s simple, if the weakness isn’t captured in the present levels, there is no basis for an IEP goal.  So, this requires a parent to be aware and make note of all of the priority weaknesses identified in the evaluations and request that they be captured in the present levels so there can be an IEP goal to address them.

The 5 Steps of the IEP Life Skills Reset

Assess Present Levels of Functional Performance:

For the purpose of this blog, I will be focusing the functional performance and life skills, versus academic achievement.

Review your child’s PLOP and call an IEP team meeting to discuss them. Note that every State’s IEP forms are different so if you can’t find the PLOP, you can call your State Department of Special Education, your school district’s special education office or your State’s Parent Training and Information Resource Center. 

Functional assessment can be done through various methods such as standardized tests, observations, parent and teacher input, and data tracking.  The 10 areas of functional skills to assess can include:

Making decisions, flexible thinking, time management, problem solving, exercising choice, initiating and planning activities. Skills needed for independence, responsibility, and self-control, including starting and completing tasks, keeping a schedule, following time limits, following directions, making choices, etc.

Lifeskills Lady

Communication Skills

Understanding and using verbal and nonverbal language. Speech, language, and listening skills needed for communication with other people, including vocabulary, responding to questions, conversation skills, etc.

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Functional Academics

Using reading, writing, and math skills in everyday life. Basic reading, writing, mathematics, and other academic skills needed for daily, independent functioning, including telling time, measurement, writing notes and letters, etc.


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Social Skills

Maintaining interpersonal relationships, understanding emotions and social cues, understanding fairness and honesty, obeying rules and laws.Skills needed to interact socially and get along with other people, including having friends, showing and recognizing emotions, assisting others, and using manners.

Leisure Skills

Taking responsibility for one’s own activities and having the ability to participate in the community. Skills needed for engaging in and planning leisure and recreational activities, including playing with others, engaging in recreation at home, following rules in games, etc.

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Skills needed for personal care including eating, dressing, bathing, toileting, grooming, hygiene, etc.


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Home or School Living

Maintaining our living space including: Housekeeping, Cooking and Laundry. Skills needed for basic care of a home or living setting, including cleaning, straightening, property maintenance and repairs, food preparation, performing chores, etc.


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Community Use

Shopping, using public transportation, using community services. Skills needed for functioning in the community, including use of community resources, shopping skills, getting around in the community, etc.

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Health and Safety

Ability to protect one’s self, medication management, responding to health problems. Skills needed for protection of health and to respond to illness and injury, including following safety rules, using medicines, showing caution, etc.


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Ability to maintain part-time or full-time employment, either competitive or, ability to work under supervision, cooperate with coworkers, be reliable and punctual, and meet work standards. Skills needed for successful functioning and holding a part-time or full-time job in a work setting, including completing work tasks, working with supervisors, and following a work schedule.

 2.  Determine What Evaluations to Conduct

To determine which basic assessments to conduct for life skills, go to

To further assess social skills and other social competencies, work with your district’s speech and language pathologist and psychologist to determine what assessment will be appropriate for your child.

3.  Review Evaluations, Prioritize Weaknesses, Update the PLOP and Write the Goals

Prior to reviewing the evaluations with the team, parents should review them and highlight all of the weaknesses you deem appropriate to address in the IEP and create a list of the corresponding goals.   This way, you will be prepared at the meeting. You can send the team your notes prior to the meeting indicating that you would like the PLOP to include your list of weakness.

If you’re feeling super ambitious, here’s a great resource for writing SMART IEP goals:

4. Implement the Goal and Monitor Progress

At the IEP meeting, make sure you have a clear understanding of the implementation plan and how the goals will be monitored for progress.  The implementation plan includes what staff member will provide the services, the duration and frequency, whether they will be one-to-one or in a group, where they will be implemented and what dates the goals begin and end.

The progress monitoring determines the method(s) for measuring progress and the frequency, which should be reflected o the IEP.

 5. Celebrate Achievements

Finally, it’s crucial to celebrate your child’s achievements along the way, regardless of how small or big they may be. This can boost their confidence, motivation, and self-esteem.  Celebrations can take many forms, such as verbal praise, tangible rewards, special activities, or social recognition. It’s also important to acknowledge your own effort and resilience as a parent, as navigating the school system and the IEP process can be challenging.