How setting behavior goals and tracking progress benefits children with autism

It isn’t always easy to spot patterns when you’re a busy parent. Maybe a few difficult days overshadow a month of growth, or working on one skill may distract from another. That’s why tracking your child’s behavior over time is a great way to measure how well she’s doing or what she needs to work on.

Before you begin tracking behavior, create a goal you’d like your child to achieve. Creating a goal is important to making sure what you’re working toward is clear. Goals can be short- or long-term. A goal helps you stick to your plan and understand your child’s progress better.

Tips for creating goals

Follow these tips for creating a goal:

  • Make it achievable. Set a goal that you know can be completed.
  • Make it observable. Create a goal that can be measured, so you can track your child’s progress.
    • Example of an observable goal: John will complete his morning routine independently without problem behavior before the school bus arrives.
    • Example of a non-observable goal: John will happily complete his morning routine.
  • Create objectives. To be sure that your child is making progress, create smaller objectives that lead up to the ultimate goal.
    • Objective: John will complete step one of his morning routine without problem behavior.
    • Overall goal: John will complete his morning routine independently without problem behavior and before the school bus arrives.

Now that you know what you’re working toward, tracking improvement or lack of improvement in your child’s behavior is critical to understanding if your interventions are working. Knowing how your child responds to different parenting techniques helps you understand what works best for her.

How to measure progress

  • Create a measurement system that works for you. If the goal is to complete a morning routine, record problem behavior once a week. That way, you don’t have to feel pressure to do it every single day.
  • Make sure what you’re recording is useful. If goal is to complete a morning routine without problem behavior, only track the problem behavior. Don’t worry about measuring anything else.
  • Keep your tracking system where you can easily use it. For example, if goals are related to getting ready in a bathroom, keep your tracking chart taped to the bathroom wall.
  • Create a way to analyze the information you collect. Take the time to study what you find in a way that works for you. You could try tracking data points on a graph, creating a color-coded chart or writing in a journal.
  • Celebrate successes. From short-term smaller goals to long-term big goals, recognizing your child’s successes and providing positive feedback will give her a sense of accomplishment and pride in what she’s done.

Read more about motivating your child.


We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of this article may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.