Using SMART Goals with Students with Learning Differences to Stay Motivated

Smart Goals

Have you or your young adult with a learning difference such as ADHD, dyslexia, or an autism spectrum diagnosis ever struggled with maintaining their effort or persistence to a task? Do you/they find it challenging to stay motivated? If so, SMART goals can help! 

SMART goals can be used to keep goal-persistentance and motivation to achieve.

SMART goals are:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Relevant

  • Timely


When it comes to creating goals, it is important to create a specific goal. For example, the goal of passing a class is pretty common. How do people pass their classes? By completing their homework, passing exams, and studying! This can be rewritten to be more specific such as: Complete and submit homework for the month of April. By taking a very general goal and making it more specific it also makes it more measurable.


Can the goal you want to achieve be measured? In the example of Complete and submit homework for the month of April, progress can be evaluated by checking if homework was turned in daily and weekly (e.g. homework was completed and submitted 4 out of 5 days of the week).


For some, the challenge of staying persistent and motivated lies here with achievable. Goals must be challenging but not so challenging that you feel you cannot achieve them. If you have a goal of completing homework for an entire month but know on average you only turn in homework once or twice a week, the goal may need to be revised to something you feel is challenging yet achievable.

For example, this can be revised to "Complete and submit homework for three days out of the week" and then slowly increase the days up to five. It is a small change with a lasting effect. If you view a goal as achievable, you’re more likely to stay motivated and persistent to the task and achieve the goal!


Part of creating SMART goals, include taking a look to see if the goal is relevant: How does this goal apply to life now? If your goals are relevant the more likely you will find it easier to stay on track and follow through with the goals you set for themselves.


When creating SMART goals, the last piece is creating a deadline. In the example of completing homework for the month of April, the deadline would be the last day of the month. The timely portion of creating SMART goals can assist with young adults’ motivation and accountability.

SMART Goals in Action:

For many people, its exciting to jump on board and get going with your personal goals; however, we all need a support system to help make sure we are set up for success.

A student at CIP Long Beach, Jacob, came to CIP with many goals that included transferring to a four year university in a two year time span, taking many classes, and making the Dean’s list. The academic department at CIP supported Jacob by going back to his SMART goals and reviewing all components of a SMART goal.

First, we had to break each of his personal goals into their own SMART goal. For example, transferring to a four year university includes having to complete many courses. In order to take many courses, Jacob needed to slowly work his way up to a full course load. To make the Dean’s list, Jacob needed to maintain A’s and B’s.

Next, on a weekly basis, we reviewed the focus for the week, the month, three months, and the next six months to ensure that the goals he maintained were specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. By consistently reviewing Jacob’s goals and ensuring they were attainable, Jacob was able to move at a pace that worked for him which assisted in his motivation and persistence.

Moving forward to the next year, Jacob has successfully achieved being able to manage a large class load prompting him to take five courses this spring term and being on the Dean’s list not once but twice (and with honors!). He is applying to transfer to a university this coming summer.

Looking back, when we asked Jacob what he learned and found most helpful in the past two years while at CIP, he said the following:

“I learned I tried to do too much when I first started and I found the structure of the module and breaking things down into groups the most helpful.”

Break It Down

SMART goals are a useful tool to help keep young adults motivated and persistent. As a parent, you can help your young adult by:

  • Breaking down goals to be specific

  • Helping measure the goal by providing check-ins or creating a tracking tool with your young adult

  • Revising goals as needed to ensure you can achieve what you set out to do

  • Remember the purpose behind the goal you set out to achieve and ensure you have others who will help you stay accountable

  • Create a realistic deadline

About the Author: Bree Tungate

As a student support specialist, Bree supports students in the Academic department and with their executive functioning skills. Within her role, Bree educates and helps our students understand the importance of executive functioning in order to thrive and be successful at CIP.