IFSP Development, Practical Strategies, Service Coordination

Writing an Honest, Balanced and Meaningful IFSP Narrative

Does this sound familiar?

Devin is a happy little boy who enjoys playing with musical toys, splashing in the bathtub, and looking at books with his grandmother. During the assessment today, Devin was able to stack three blocks, scribble with a crayon, and point to four pictures in a book. He sat independently, pulled to stand at furniture, and crawled across the floor to get to his mom when she called his name. He is beginning to take a few steps but is not yet walking without his hands held. Devin uses approximately 12 words and signs to communicate and understands simple 1-step directions, such as give me, come here, and find your ball. He tantrums often throughout the day and can be difficult to calm down. He is a good eater and feeds himself using his fingers. He has begun to use a spoon with lots of spilling. He primarily drinks from a bottle but can use a sippy cup as well….

Sounds like Devin is doing quite well developmentally, doesn’t it? From this IFSP narrative, you have no idea that Devin is actually 28 months old and is showing global developmental delays. What is missing from this narrative? What is needed so that any reader clearly understands Devin’s developmental status?

Writing an Honest, Balanced IFSP Narrative

The IFSP narrative is intended to provide a summary of the child’s developmental status based on information gathered from the child assessent. This summary should include the child strengths AND functional limitations and needs. It can be so easy to over-emphasize the child’s strengths and the skills a child can do in an effort to have present a positive perspective. When we do this, we are sharing only half of the story. Every child has areas of strength and limitations and understanding both is vital to developing individualized outcomes and intervention strategies.

The IFSP narrative should present an honest description of the assessment findings and do so in a balanced manner that helps others understand what the child can do and what he has not yet mastered. This helps the parents understand the child’s development from a holistic and functional perspective and recognize what skills and abilities come next. It also provides background information for understanding family priorities related to what goes well for the child and where the struggles may be and why.

The OTHER Problem with this Narrative

Did you notice the other problem? This narrative reads like a list of test skills in paragraph format. When a narrative is written like this, it can be very difficult for families, child care providers, insurance reviewers, and others to understand the relationship between the skills the child demonstrated based on test items and the functional abilities and struggles that occur in everyday life. Many states are moving to crafting the IFSP narrative from the perspective of the three OSEP child outcome indicators (i.e., positive social-emotional skills, acquisition of skills and knowledge, and use of appropriate behaviors to meet needs). Framing the IFSP narrative using the child outcomes can help all team members understand and use assessment information to inform intervention decisions.

Here are a few tips to help you write an honest, balanced and meaningful IFSP narrative:

Adopt a holistic, integrated perspective of development. Always remember that all areas of development are related.

Be sure you understand what each item on the assessment tool actually tell you about a child’s development. See the post Put Away the 1 Inch Cubes! for more info.

Describe development in terms of both what the child can do and what he has not yet mastered. Share information about skills the child does not have in a positive, straight-forward manner by describing “next skills” and talking about how these relate to daily life. (Ex: Next skills for Devin involve more independence with walking, feeding himself, and communication. Devin has a small vocabulary of words now that he uses to name people and favorite toys. When he can use more words, he will be able to tell his family what he needs more easily which might help decrease his tantrums since his family feels that he gets frustrated when they are unable to understand him…)

Remember that development occurs in the context of everyday interactions and routines. This is true for all children and is an important perspective to have when explaining assessment results and how they relate to the child’s abilities and challenges in daily life.

Use the three OSEP child outcomes as your guide. For more information on the child outcomes, visit The Early Childhood Outcomes Center.

Have one team member write the narrative, instead of having multiple team members write separate parts. One team member will likely find it easier to integrate information across the three OSEP child outcomes and across assessment domains. When you ask each assessment team member to each write a summary, you may be less likely to receive an integrated description if the assessor(s) views development from the lens of his/her domain.

Be sure that the IFSP narrative clearly explains why the child needs early intervention services. While the narrative is not the place to designate outcomes or services, it should make it clear why the child is in need of intervention.

The first step to improving how you write IFSP narratives is to go back and review narratives you have previously written. Look through the lens of these suggestions. Have a colleague read your narratives and provide feedback. If you find a narrative that needs improvement, practice rewriting it so that you will be ready to write it better at the annual IFSP review.

What strategies do you use to help your team write balanced narratives? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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Additional Virginia resources for writing IFSPs:

Infant & Toddler Connection of VA Practice Manual

VA Early Intervention Professional Development Center’s IFSP & Outcome Development topic page

Online module – IFSP 101: Introduction to the Infant & Toddler Connection of Virginia’s IFSP Development Process

 

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7 Comments to “Writing an Honest, Balanced and Meaningful IFSP Narrative”

  1. This article is %100 on target for a child and for a family. The “next skills” piece provides a family with expectations that they may not realize or come up with themselves. Parents are so close to the child that it is hard to project the continuum. An IFSP written with this and with the 3 indicators offers adult education with paramount benefit for all. Thanks Dana!

    • Thanks for the feedback, Cathy! You make a great point about the IFSP and adult education. That’s really one of the purposes of the narrative – to get the EI partnership between the parent and provider off on the right start. If parents don’t understand or can’t use the IFSP narrative, then it’s not well written!

  2. Great thoughts. I would love to see a good example of a narrative done during an assessment (with time limitations, with parents talking, and a child moving around, etc. etc. etc.). Our team has this goal, but some of us are getting discouraged and stressed…. maybe just part of the learning curve?

    • I’ve heard many people say that too, Beth. It’s easy to look at a sample but much harder to replicate it in real life. I’m going to be videotaping a few assessments soon so I’ll ask for a copy of the narratives too to go along with the videos. The learning curve is definately a reality. Hang in there. Can you all link up with another program for support? Maybe go observe some IFSP meetings to see how the narratives are written?

  3. As a student in ECSE, and currently going through my EI student teaching experience, this article grounded many of my wobbly thoughts. Let me clarify: I’ve been taught endlessly about how important it is to emphasize children’s strengths. Therefore I always struggle to create an accurate narrative – after all, we need to understand the child’s weaknesses, too! I’m just so glad that you addressed this issue. I hope that others realize how important it is to create a balanced profile of the child.

    I also like how you phrased “next steps.” It is a positive way of discussing some weaknesses- and I will definitely be using that term.

    • Yay! I’m so happy to hear that this post provided you with some clarification. I think your struggle is not uncommon. It’s so important to present the the “whole” child in the narrative because all of us are more than our weaknesses. I do understand about the “endless” emphasis on child strengths – it’s putting that perspective into practice that’s tricky. Even reflecting on that as you’ve done is setting you on the right path to doing this well! Thanks for posting your thoughts!

      And welcome to the field, Gena! 🙂

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