Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Aug 18
Avatar of Doug Goldberg

by Doug Goldberg

When dealing with behavior, safety and medical issues for Special Education students often times the IEP team will discuss the use of behavior intervention specialists (behaviorists) or paraprofessionals, such as one on one aides or classroom aides.  It’s important to understand the difference between all of these options and the qualifications of the personnel. 

What is a Behaviorist?

An individual who can evaluate, design and implement a behavior intervention plan.  They create behavior modifications through skill acquisition, positive reinforcements and the reduction of problematic behavior.  Behaviorists hold a Bachelor of Arts degree from a four year college or university.   Their degree is usually in psychology or related fields.  Many behaviorists also have Master’s degrees in their field and have many years of experience working with special needs children.

What is a paraprofessional?

A paraprofessional, as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act, is an employee of a School District who provides instructional support in a program supported with Title I funds.  They are not licensed teachers and must work under the direct supervision of a highly qualified teacher.  They do not provide direct instruction, or introduce to students new skills, concepts, or academic content.  Paraprofessionals have a high school diploma or its equivalent and 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).

What is the difference between a one on one aide and a classroom or school aide?

A one on one aide is assigned to help only one child.  It should be stipulated in that child’s IEP that the aide assigned to them can’t be used for any other reason in the classroom or the school.  A classroom aide is assigned to a specific teacher and helps the entire classroom.  A school aide works similarly to a classroom aide but is most likely assigned to the School Administration to work somewhere within the school.

I have never heard of paraprofessionals what else are they called?

Some of the other names I have heard used for paraprofessionals include:

  • Aide:
  • Shadow:
  • Instructional Assistant:
  • Para-educators: and
  • Special Circumstances Instructional Assistant (SCIA)

Does my child need a behaviorist?

If your child is acting out in school and getting in trouble the best way to determine their behavior needs is to perform a Functional Behavior Assessment.  This behavior assessment will determine an appropriate strategy for dealing with the problem behavior and whether a behaviorist is necessary.  Just like all assessments if you disagree with the School District results you may ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation at public expense.  Since, behaviorists cost more than paraprofessionals sometimes School Districts offer paraprofessionals for the wrong reason.  As your child’s advocate make sure what is being offered by the School District is based on your child’s needs.

The School is trying to replace my child’s behaviorist with a paraprofessional, what do I do? 

There could be many reasons why the School District is trying to replace a behaviorist.  Hopefully, the reason is because the behavior that caused the need for the behaviorist has been positively changed.  If this is the case I would suggest using a phase out system for the behaviorist so that the IEP team can see how the child acts with the paraprofessional.  Make sure you don’t agree to reduce the behaviorist to less than 50% of the current hours.  This way you can call a new IEP, if problems arise, and stop the phase out by showing concrete data that it’s not working.

If the School District is trying to replace a behaviorist because of cost, this is unacceptable.  Make sure you disagree with this portion of the IEP and file a complaint.  While the disagreement is being worked out there will be a “Stay Put”.  The School will not be able to remove or reduce the amount of hours the behaviorist is with your child during the Stay Put.

As parents, a good rule of thumb is never agree with changes in an IEP that you feel don’t meet your child’s unique needs.  It’s very hard to get a service back after a parent has agreed to remove it from an IEP.  As my wife always reminds me, “Trust your instincts”.

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3 Responses to “Behaviorists & Paraprofessionals (Aides)”

  1. I wanted to make a comment about Paraprofessionals. I have

    been a paraprofessional for over 5 years. I have been working at

    different schools within our district because I am employed by the

    Special Education Township that I live in. I work in a regular

    education school in a CIC classroom. We have a Behaviorial

    Specialist that comes in our classroom weekly to work with our

    team to make a behavior intervention plan for each student that

    needs one. We work very closely with our behavioral specialist.

    My job and other paraprofessional will tell you, each one of us

    make a difference in a child’s life. We work very hard right beside

    the child’s teacher along with the IEP team to help make

    sure the child’s education needs are being met.. An IEP is never

    set in stone there is always room for changes and improvements.

    I know because I am also a parent that has a child in special

    education with an I EP.

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  2. How do i get my child a paraprofessional ??

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  3. Be careful before speaking for staff qualifications for ALL paraprofessionals, Instructional Assistants, etc. I am an Intervention Specialist for a school district with my credentialing in two different states, Orton Gillingham Certified, with over 10 years of experience as the Teacher of Record in NYC, ATL, Miami, and now California.

    Jobs are hard to find right now and many overly-qualified people are doing whatever position they can find.

    It has been truly discouraging to have parents talk down to me since I began this position because they consider me “just an aide” (i’ve even had parents say things like this to me about myself and others). It’s very hurtful to have the challenging work you do dismissed by the parents of the children you serve every single day.

    Don’t make assumptions. Support and get to know EVERY person in your child’s classroom.

    Thank you for reading.

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