Selecting Target Behaviors for Treatment

Match treatment to your individual needs, interests, and strengths

To begin therapy, the clinician (e.g., speech-language pathologist, reading specialist, learning disabilities teacher) identifies those skills and behaviors that need to be strengthened or learned; in other words, those areas in which you are having problems. The clinician will use all sources of information available—including previous clinical reports, diagnostic testing, school reports, and, importantly, your input and reflections—to determine which behaviors to address.

Therapy must be goal-based. See Principles of Effective Treatment.

What is a Target Behavior?

A target behavior refers to the skill or action that the clinician wants you to learn (e.g., strengthen phonemic awareness, improve reading comprehension, or learn spelling patterns). Since most clients present a variety of target behaviors, priorities must be put in place to maximize treatment efficacy. By choosing fewer targets initially, we can work on the most attainable targets first.

You will want to target words that are functional to your environment, such as subject or work-related vocabulary. Underlying skills must be trained first. For example, if you have difficulty with phonics, you will need to strengthen those skills in order to refine spelling patterns. Targets must be re-assessed periodically throughout all stages of treatment, with new behaviors targeted as appropriate.

How do we select target behaviors?

There are two main approaches to target selection: the traditional method, which is guided by normative data, and the client-specific approach. The traditional method uses normative data to establish targets that are typical of development at a certain age. Thus, a child who is not performing specific language skills by age 6 would then be trained to produce those specific targets (e.g., phonemes, vocabulary, grammar).

The client-specific approach adheres to the tenets of the normative data approach, but also targets the demands of the client's communicative environment. The professional obtains information about your needs at home, school, or work to determine the optimal target behaviors for you.

The following guidelines are based on the client-specific approach.

Target Behavior Selection Guidelines

You and your clinician will want to select

  1. Behaviors that make the most immediate and socially significant difference in your communication and reading skills. Those targets that have the most social or personal relevance are referred to as functional targets. Example: choosing content-specific vocabulary words to improve reading comprehension and spelling.
  2. Targets that are the most useful can be readily produced and reinforced in the natural environment. This will assist with carryover and maintenance of behavior.
  3. Targets that can be expanded and modified. For example, a clinician begins with a short story, then asks questions addressing main ideas. Thereafter, the client should attempt to write a logical summary of a longer story.
  4. Words, language structures, and pragmatic targets that relate to your environment and culture.

The final target selection depends on several factors. The practitioner must take into consideration your diagnosis, current levels of performance, communicative and learning needs, the environment, and—particularly important—your wishes, hopes, and dreams.

Treatment that is matched to your needs and interests and incorporates your strengths will be most beneficial, fun, and rewarding! Success starts here!