Is a One-on-One School Aide Right for Your Child?
One-on-one aides are also known as paraprofessionals, instructional aides, education assistants, or therapeutic staff support. The duties of each paraprofessional are customized in your child’s IEP or section 504 and are based on your child’s unique needs. Paraprofessionals provide:
- Behavioral management interventions, such as using positive reinforcement for behavioral issues
- Help developing age-appropriate self-management skills, such as organization of materials
- Help with daily hygiene, such as prompting hand-washing after using the bathroom
- Encouragement to participate in social situations during group activities, recess or lunchtime
- Help in developing anger management skills, such as removing the child from the situation and going over skills to calm down before reentering the situation
- Help in learning ways to manage frustration and other emotions such as counting to 10 or approaching the situation from a different perspective
- Additional help in reading, math, or other subjects, such as providing extra support while completing desk work or remedial work in subjects such as reading
- Accompaniment on field trips
- Insight into a child's behavior and needs by taking notes on behavior throughout the day.
The goal of a paraprofessional is to help your child gain the skills needed to work and function independently during the school day. Depending on your child's needs, an aide might stay with your child throughout the day or might be assigned to help your child during certain classes or times of the day. It is their job to step in and aid when needed but also to step back and encourage independent skills when possible.
There are a few things that a paraprofessional does not do, such as administer medication or babysit your child.
A paraprofessional will not make decisions regarding your child without input from teachers, family or team members. Paraprofessionals are directed and supervised by your child's teacher.
There is a federal definition for paraprofessional. According to the No Child Left Behind Act:
- All Title I paraprofessionals must have a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent.
- Additionally, except as noted below, paraprofessionals hired after January 8, 2002, and working in a program supported with Title I, Part A funds must have:
- Completed two years of study at an institution of higher education; or
- Obtained an associate's (or higher) degree; or
- Met a rigorous standard of quality and be able to demonstrate, through a formal State or local academic assessment, knowledge of and the ability to assist in instructing, reading, writing, and mathematics (or, as appropriate, reading readiness, writing readiness, and mathematics readiness).
A paraprofessional's duties are varied based on the individual child. One child might need social supports while another would benefit from extra help with spelling, math, or reading. Another may require help managing emotions. Because there is not a standard set of duties it is important for you to know your goals for having a paraprofessional assigned to your child.
Things to consider
Some questions to ask yourself before requesting a paraprofessional include:
- What areas or times of day does your child struggle most often?
- Does your child need an aide for the entire day or just during certain times or for specific classes, for example, math class or during transitions?
- Will it be the same aide everyday or will aides rotate from student to student?
- What role do you see the paraprofessional playing?
- What skills could be improved with the help of a paraprofessional?
- How will the success of the paraprofessional be measured? It is important to know what the goals are and how you will know if and when those goals are met.
- How close will the paraprofessional remain to your child? Will she accompany to lunch, recess, field trips, gym class, after school activities?
- Do you believe your child needs a one-on-one aide? Or will the paraprofessional be responsible for assisting with several students within the classroom?
- Who will be with your child during the paraprofessional's lunch break?
- What happens when a substitute is needed?
- Do you want a specialized paraprofessional?
- Does your child need someone who specializes in behavior management, reading or social skills?
- Will your child benefit from an overall or specialized paraprofessional?
Schools and parents should have clear understanding about a child's need for an aide and what the aide is expected to do. Before meeting with your child's IEP or section 504 team, list what you think the paraprofessional will do and what responsibilities and tasks she will complete. Remember, you don't want to list that the paraprofessional will do these tasks for your child but instead list ways the paraprofessional will help develop independence. This is sometimes referred to as "fade the aide" because the goal is for the child to be able to work without assistance.
Requesting a paraprofessional
Be as specific as possible when writing your list. Schools are more apt to include a paraprofessional if they see a specific benefit, if the goal is to improve specific areas rather than general performance, and if the use of a paraprofessional is seen as temporary.
Requests for paraprofessionals must be made in writing or during the team meeting for your child's IEP or section 504. If your child's doctor or another professional has suggested that your child would benefit from a paraprofessional, it could be helpful to include that recommendation with your request. However, don't rely on a note from your child's doctor as the sole reason for your request. You will still need to outline your reasons and expected goals.
Schools must include services, programs, or placement for a child to receive a free, appropriate education, according to WrightsLaw.com. Paraprofessionals allow your child to be placed in the least restrictive environment and should be set up with the goal of fostering independence. IEPs and 504s are individualized, so whether you have an aide or not depends on your child's unique needs.
You should be prepared for the school to deny your request. Using a paraprofessional is an expensive endeavor for the school. They might have to hire a part- or full-time person. If they deny your request, make sure they put the denial in writing so you can decide if you want to appeal through mediation or due process.
A note on least restrictive environments
Schools are required to provide education in the least restrictive environment. On one hand, the use of a paraprofessional can be considered a restriction. If your child is shadowed throughout the day it can make them feel isolated or it can increase their dependence on having an adult there to help them make decisions. It can make interacting with other children more difficult.
On the other hand, a paraprofessional can help your child succeed in a regular classroom, which makes it less restrictive. The goal of a paraprofessional is to foster independent skills, which means that the restriction is a temporary one and will ultimately lead to a much less restrictive environment.
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