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IFSP Tutorial - Developing and Implementing

Developing the IFSP:

Essential Content

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Functional outcomes: The guide for early intervention supports and services

Functional outcomes point to where a family “wants to go”. They provide direction for collaboration between family members and early intervention providers about how to reach a family’s desired outcomes. Too often, IFSPs focus only on child outcomes and do not address family supports from early intervention providers and other community resources (Jung & Baird, 2003; Boone et al, 1998; McWilliam et al, 1998). Identifying functional outcomes with families is the cornerstone for developing the IFSP document since the outcomes specify what should happen for families and children as a result of their participation in early intervention.

The following questions guide early intervention providers and family members in identifying functional outcomes that are meaningful, family-desired, specific and “do-able.”

Measurable criteria for each outcome is included in a different section of the Maryland IFSP document.

1. Meaningful:

Do the outcomes promote a child’s competence in situations, activities and routines that are meaningful for each family/child?

Meaningful outcomes promote a child’s functioning in three key foundations of early development - social interaction, mastery over environment and engagement in learning- in ways specific to each family/child (McWilliam, 2002; National Research Council, 2000).

Examples include:
  Social interaction (e.g., understanding & expressing emotions, forming friendships, interacting with family members/peers);

Mastery over environment (e.g., caring for one’s self, navigating spaces and places, using tools, toys and objects purposefully in specific activity settings);

Engagement in learning (e.g., acquiring and using information from body/environment in play and relationships, adapting to familiar and novel people/objects in specific situations, figuring out cause and effect).


These three foundations of early development- social interaction, mastery over environment and engagement in learning- cover the domain-specific skills that have traditionally been identified as child outcomes on IFSPs. Traditional outcomes typically focus on isolated motor, language, social/emotional, cognition, and self-help skills, and often lose sight of the family/community context in which a specific behavior or skill will be used. Meaningful outcomes include a real life context i.e., how and/or where a child or parent will use an identified action or interaction (Rosenketter, & Squires, 2000).


Examples of functional and traditional child outcomes:

Functional outcomes
(what child and/or family will do
in a specific context)

Traditional outcomes
(focus on child ’s skills within a specific domain)

Neena will eat and drink by mouth like other kids during family outings

(For a child who currently has a feeding tube which the parents would love to replace with Nina eating by mouth so the family can go out together)

Neena will improve eating skills

Tommy will tell mom what he wants to eat and play with so that both are happier with each other.

(For a child who does not talk very well and whines and cries when he wants something. His parents are very frustrated trying to understand what he says.)

Tommy will improve expressive language skills or Tommy will say 25 words

Jermaine will walk on his own with family during after dinner outings

(For a child who has increased tone in his legs which interferes with independent walking)

Jermaine will develop motor skills at the 12-14 month level


Jermaine will decrease muscle tone in his legs


Examples of functional outcomes for families:

  • Paula and Pete will find a wheelchair for Megan and feel comfortable using it during family outings (Megan gets around her home by rolling over and crawling, but has to be carried on family outings. Pete and Paula are interested in using a wheelchair so they can all go out together, and need help with paying for it)
  • Sylvia will take Paolo to the park and shopping, by herself (Sylvia has a significant visual impairment and wants to “shine” as a parent and take her son to the library, a park or the mall by herself)


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