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Everyone has a unique map on the journey to achieving personal success. Although we are each on different paths, we all have the same need to set goals that maximize outcomes. It is important to us at SMARTER STEPS® that caregivers and professionals maintain the highest level of competency when charting the future for individuals with disabilities and health issues.


To empower busy caregivers and professionals with strategies for developing educational and health care or rehabilitation goals that are attainable.
Black and white photo of Kelly Ott and Lara Wakefield standing side by side and smiling
The objectives of the SMARTER STEPS® process are:

1. To empower caregivers and professionals to utilize compliant strategies that meet legal mandates, reimbursement policies, and evidence-based guidelines surrounding educational and therapeutic planning.
2. To train caregivers and professionals on how to use the SMARTER STEPS® resources to optimize outcomes.
3. To improve collaborative partnerships among professionals and caregivers by providing them with a common set of user-friendly tools and terminology.


Kelly Ott and Lara Wakefield of SMARTER Steps talk with each other around a table
Kelly Ott and Lara Wakefield met in 1992 as graduate students at the University of Missouri, Columbia, in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program. It was a time before email and smartphones, when medical charts were still hand written. IEP documentation was required in carbon copy, triplicate form. Over the years, they gained experience in a variety of settings, having worn many different hats as both professionals and caregivers.

One of the biggest pain points that Kelly and Lara realized on their respective journeys, was the struggle that caregivers and professionals have with developing meaningful, user-friendly goals that meet best practices and compliance requirements. Kelly and Lara have experienced first hand the challenges of excessive paperwork and time restraints. They have witnessed the parent frustration and disputes that result with poorly developed goals.

After two decades of research and practice, Kelly and Lara created a process designed to alleviate the pain of goal development. The S.M.A.R.T.E.R Steps® approach was published in 2016. The results are effective, time-saving goal development tips that allows everyone involved to focus on what really matters – progress.


SMARTER Steps® is a national consulting partnership that allows you to team up with Kelly Ott and Lara Wakefield to craft an action plan. Known as the “Goal Gurus”, Kelly and Lara each bring over 25 years of experience from the education and healthcare fields.

Kelly and Lara educate caregivers and professionals across settings on best practices and compliance for goal development with a variety of user-friendly tools and services. They provide webinars, products, membership newsletters and consultation services.


Lara has over 25 years of experience as a Parent Advocate and Speech-Language Pathologist. Her main focus is fostering an inclusive mindset so that children with disabilities and their non-disabled peers can learn and socialize together. She has conducted research in the areas of inclusive collaboration for classroom-based services receiving grants from the U.S. Department of Education. Lara assists families and professionals with exploring the research behind evidence-based practices and determining the various educational options available for each child.
Lara’s experience and training includes:

Wrightslaw Workshop on Parent Advocacy for IDEA
Doctorate of Philosophy in Communication Sciences and Disorders from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio
Master of Health Sciences in Communication Sciences and Disorders from the University of Missouri, Columbia
Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education from Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas
Clinical Certificate of Competence from American Speech-Language Hearing Association
Missouri State Board of Healing Arts License to practice Speech-Language Pathology
SEAT Training with the Council of Parent Advocates and Attorneys
Work experience in schools, hospital and clinic settings including inpatient, outpatient, rehabilitation and home health
Advocacy in bi-partisan effort for passing laws that prohibit school districts from investigating themselves in abuse allegations
Advocacy in bi-partisan efforts for passing safer regulations for Seclusion and Restraint Laws
Advocacy with multiple agencies for parents and schools to have the Right to Record IEP/504 Meetings in Missouri
Advocacy work in the areas of insurance coverage for rehabilitative therapies, Medicaid reimbursement and county tax levies for research for people with disabilities in Missouri
Consultation with educators and healthcare providers on how to document evaluations and services in user-friendly ways for school teams to understand diagnoses and interventions
Advocacy work for families on how to communicate with health care providers and educators about evaluations and interventions to improve services


With over 25 years of experience as a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist, consultant, educator and administrator, Kelly has served children and adults with a diverse range of speech, language, swallowing, learning and communication needs. She has provided direct speech pathology services, specialized educational services, professional development training, business communication and presentation training. Kelly is an IEP consultant dedicated to providing specialized strategies for achievement.
Kelly’s experience and training includes:

Master of Health Sciences in Communication Sciences and Disorders from the University of Missouri, Columbia
Master of Education in Administration from the William Woods University, Fulton Missouri
Clinical Certificate of Competence from American Speech-Language Hearing Association
Missouri State Board of Healing Arts License to practice Speech-Language Pathology
Lifetime Missouri Teacher Certified for Pre-K through 12th grade as Speech-Language Specialist
Missouri Administration Certification K-8
Work experience in schools, hospital and clinical settings including inpatient, outpatient, rehabilitation centers, skilled nursing facilities and home health
Post-graduate training in the areas of modified barium swallows, FEES, AAC, cleft palate, voice disorders, management of auditory processing disorder diagnosis, feeding, quality of life issues, VitalStim training, FIM training, NOMs training and accreditation reviews
Continuing education presenter for professionals managing various learning techniques and medical diagnoses that affect learning, communication, and feeding
Coordinator of social skills groups and parent training programs for individuals with various medical/learning diagnoses in mid-Missouri
Consultant to health care providers, educators and social workers on providing intervention options to complement individual treatment plans and outcomes