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

Feb 21
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by Jess

I may upset a few parents with this post, but just know that I what I am about to say is in the best interest of your children. Many, many, many (did I say many?) parents insist that their children with autism have "shadows" when they are included in general education classrooms. Parents tell one another things like, "Whatever you do, make sure the shadow is assigned to your child, not the classroom." In my opinion, the worst thing you can do is to assign a non-certified staff person to a child. In fact, it is not just my opinion. Research has shown that having a shadow assigned to a student can have detrimental effects (Downing, Ryndak, & Clark, 2000); Giangreco & Broer, 2005). Some of the documented negative effects of having shadows assigned to students include:

• Interference with engagement with the teacher

• Interference with engagement with peers

• Decision making by under-qualified personnel

• Unnecessary dependence on the paraprofessional by the student

• Stigmatization

• Behavior problems

I can't tell you how many times I stepped into classrooms in which a shadow is assigned to a student, and I wanted to grab a megaphone and shout out, "PLEASE STEP AWAY FROM THE CHILD!" This is not because paraprofessionals aren't wonderful people, because they almost always are. This is because they are doing what they have been told to do: "keep the child on task," "reduce problem behavior," "help the child with academic work," "help the child with organization," etc. The problem is, these responsibilities need to be the teacher's responsibilities. While I am well aware that a general education teacher certainly needs support to be able to meet the needs of a student with autism in the classroom, the support should not be a shadow. It could be a paraprofessional assigned to work under the guidance of the general education and special education teachers who are responsible for the student's education. Or...it could be a special education teacher who co-teaches with the general education teacher all or some of the day. When paraprofessionals are in inclusive classrooms there are many ways they can be utilized to support all students including the student with autism such as:

• Providing small group instruction

• Monitoring students working independently

• Monitoring centers or stations

• Preparing materials to allow for differentiated instruction and assessment

• Provide 1:1 support as needed

When paraprofessionals are used in ways listed above, it allows the general education teacher to better meet the individual needs of the student with autism as well as other students in the classroom. Of course, general education teachers need training and support from special education teachers to know how to effectively teach students with autism. And, even more importantly, general and special education teachers need training on how to work collaboratively and how to effectively utilize paraprofessionals in the classroom.

Deb Leach is presently an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC. She works with families, educators, and community groups to help support the successful inclusion of individuals with ASD using principles of ABA and other evidence-based practices. Her focus is on finding ways to bring ABA interventions into the everyday lives of individuals with ASD to increase family, community, and school inclusion and reduce the need for segregated services. http://bringingaba.blogspot.com


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15 Responses to “Please Step Away From the Child! The Misuse of Paraprofessionals in Inclusive Classrooms”

  1. So glad to see an article like this! I am a former “shadow” (I am now an adaptive movement educator) and I agree that the least amouint of interference is the best! I think there needs to be better training for paraprofessionals to do their jobs in the most useful manner and in the best interest of all involved. Thanks for your insight!

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  2. What is most important is that the paraprofessional involved with a student with ASD have adequate training and experience. If they have this, they will know when to stand back and when to step in.

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  3. Deb, thank you for your article. As a parent, I have worked with paras for several years and I offer a different take. In my humble opinion, I feel that before we make judgements on the degree of how much a para gives to a child, we need to know the child’s level of abilitiy, the task at hand and how capable a child is of completing it, and respect the fact that the teacher may have upwards of 30 kids in her class. So, while theoretically, it is best for a para to have less participation, that may not always be practical or what’s even best for the child.

    Also, it is very important that parents make it clear that the para is there for their child. If not, it is not uncommon for the para to become the teacher’s aide at all times while leaving the child with autism in the dust. No matter what transpires in the class, the child with autism should have priority because that’s why the para is there — to give support.

    Thank you!

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    • Thank you, that is exactly what I was gonna reply x2, it is a step for the Para to be eliminated completely ! Always , I have seen our kids get lost on school property and lost in the classroom ie. homework and then the behavior goes up and we regress again ! The teachers and special Ed teachers and paras need trained and need to Communicate daily ! Also, the principal needs to know what the heck is going on ! As was stated, with proper training and well developed IEP’s and informed staffing the child can grow and things are adjusted ! They learn or accomplish goals , then you target another goal or adjust your support ! Every day I hear , he was this or that and I am like where was the Para ? So, basically we accomplish zero with the help we were supplied and they chart tons to clear it up and then the help is pulled! Stupid ! Waste of $$$$$’! Then other child has had wonderful, smart caring, and intelligent para who has moved mountains with our child, so district has other parents who are complaining why do we have para and since she is so good , now they are “loaning” para to new PreK student coming in ! And plan to just dismiss her entirely from our child or I have heard new plan is to kick our child to special school in co-op of area schools ! The IEP becomes a waste of time. The regular Ed teacher has no training and minimal extra support, so they push in and out of their rooms a classroom para who is basically a secretary and then to a point where they are helping other non indv. aid kids and you kid is lost ! Schools actually put , rotate between the LUCKY teacher that year, the spec Ed in one classroom to share the indv para assigned to one kid ! Seen it yearly now for 10 years, between two kids and other families in our school ! It is fine, if the IEP is honored and functions correctly! As, was mentioned above a para can have things for busy work. But, the student usually has her for safety as well as educational and this is where it gets SCAREY. Pretty soon they have ” oh Johnny is ok on paper and he is fine ! ” and bye bye help in classroom ! Show me the grades , the homework, and the lack of behavior or safety concerns, and the results because of the para and I would be the first to say, ok let’s back down and see what he can do with just visuals and less monitoring,manual prompts! We NEVER get to review 10 years, an IEP, because the schools never do what they say they are going to, they never follow thru, they never provide the services, and even if we start they change it up when you blink and oops they got away with that ! It is a whole new fight and game at each meeting and the paper cost is worth more than the IEP supposed contract the school is signing on these kids. By the way, I am not just some angry parent. I have seen this for lots of other kids I see daily, the schools hide rather than let you know how and what they are teaching, and when you know your IEP’s laws and can handle yourself, you then become their adversary! ALL OVER AN INNOCENT CHILD WHO NEEDS DIFFERENT, OR ADDITIONAL AND MAYBE MORE HELP! I thought that was why they went to school too, to have training and ideas and skills to teach all these spec. Ed kids ! No, it is all a contract and the kids equal money and a piece of the pie! RTI is actually very funny! Try talking to your school and find out what your kid is doing in this time labeled RTI! Seriously, you will get the run around! Then you will believe this post!
      Train the para and use the effectively. Second, train tenure teachers that things times change and they have to also ! Don’t allow teachers do zero, while para handles kid and ends up being teacher! Don’t allow teacher to be disengaged with the whole IEP procedure and para and kid just exist! Teacher needs to run her class and teach our kid ! Para is there to limit interruptions to class and support child to allow teacher to teach child! Too often you have a rigid older teacher that can or will not handle this! When child improves, talk with spec Ed teacher, who must be involved, and revisit goals or portions of IEP for what works and what does not work ! Ps. Goals to have child communicate with peers and staff should be in the IEP! This being blocked or not happening is just stupid, and an excuse, an a politics thing within the school personnel! Prompting (is in ABA and you regress when done properly) needs training! What a mess! No wonder $$!

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  4. As a parent new to “the system” after our child was determined eligible for services through the school system, we were anxious to receive everything that would help him. I read plenty that said he is eligible for an aid and if not given one we can press the issue. I heard plenty. As we sat through the first IEP meeting at the end of his Kindergarten year, in prep for 1st grade we were concerned that there would be no aid. The principal said he believed our son was above the need. Where I first felt flattered I also felt deep concern that we were going to have a repeat of issues we saw happen in Kindergarten where he would be sent to the hall because no one could deal with him. We actually learned later just how often that was happening.

    Then we were afforded the opportunity to participate in some intensive autism training done through a state funded grant for school professionals. They invited parents for a target student (START training in Michigan). It was so eye opening. One thing I will never forget was a discussion on Least Restrictive Environment. My logic said least restrictive meant providing the most help possible to give him the most support so he wasn’t restricted from keeping up. But I learned it meant something so different. Providing the child with an environment that provided the least amount of interference to allow them to grow and develop. It could be stated so much better than what I’m saying. The bottom line is that we have watched this progression for 2 1/2 years and seen plenty of success. If there have been issues they can be documented and charted to see frequency and honestly we always come up with solutions to work with it other than having someone shadow him. Each year he has had peers that have provided support throughout his school day. Their value has helped relieve pressure on the teacher. He has learned social things from them that I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t have learned otherwise with an adult shadowing him.

    There was also excellent training on how to appropriately use a parapro that go right along with what is mentioned in this article.

    All of this said, I agree every child is different. Some children need additional assistance. But I couldn’t be happier that we started without as scary as that was. I believe he was provided the least restrictive environment with an option to add what might be needed as the needs were truly confirmed. I also think an extra set of hands can be helpful, especially for a teacher with multiple integrated children in the classroom. But I’m seeing a wonderful teacher handle it and do well because the school is set up to support her and provide help when/where needed. We could have created a much different scenario had we let our fear control the outcome rather than giving it time to see just how much he could do given the right environment.

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    • Thank you for your very well articulated post! I think you point out something very true: many times paras are assigned as shadows out of fear not because it is best practice. It sounds like you have an amazing school for your child!

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  5. Deb, I completely agree with you. I am an educational specialist with over 20 years of experience. For several years I also worked as an inclusion specialist for a non-profit.

    One of my responsibilities was to provide training to both the paraprofessional and the teacher (the children were being mainstreamed) on how to best provide for the child with special needs in their classroom.

    The results were clear: the only way a para can possibly succeed is if she integrates herself in the classroom, working with other children, helping the teacher a little, etc.

    Parents, when your child’s para sticks to your child like glue, a couple of things happen:
    -the teacher feels the child isn’t her responsibility at all
    -other children look at the child as different (they don’t when the para helps them too)
    -the child becomes overly dependent
    -the para spends too much time nitpicking on stuff that the child really needs to figure out on their own.

    And from my experience, this holds true no matter what level of functioning your child is. If your child is high-functioning enough to be in a classroom and need a para, then all of the above DO happen.

    There are ways to make sure that this doesn’t happen – and I’d be happy to write a post about this Deb if you’d like – but it is essential to your child’s success.

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  6. Very, very good article!

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  7. A really good article and very good follow up dicussions. What we need in classrooms is ‘invisible’ support. The teaching assistant needs training and the assistant and teacher need to work together. This may mean they need to meet for a few minutes before class so they know their roles. As a special needs adviser I have been in many classrooms as observer. Most teachers make it very clear what s/he wants the children to do and the teaching assistant steps in to those children who appear unwilling or unable to start the work. But I have witnessed times when the children and TA were unsure what was wanted – a recipe for disaster for many children especially an AS child.

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  8. My son has a paraprofessional and a lot of our problems have stemmed from her being too involved and teachers relying on her to help with classroom management. The other kids hate my son because the person who is ‘with him’ is the big meanie who gets everyone in trouble. The school is requiring that we have her because of safety, while other parents who really need one get denied. This article helped me think about other options for my son that will serve the same purpose.

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  9. I like the idea of a transitional aide to help the child get used to a classroom with less support – the idea is the person is not going to there very long, then maybe they need to be there longer and even longer – but the idea all along is that the person will be leaving SOON. It is too hard to get an aide in quickly when the child is in need of one – at least in our district! No aide at the beginning for a kiddo that is very likely going to need one is planned failure around here. They will take 75 days to do an evaluation for the Temporary Special Needs Aide, then they will take at least another 28-56 days to hire someone, that’s 18 weeks, half the school year. We’ve been through this with a friend and her kiddo as well as his teachers, suffered while the District dragged their feet getting the job done.

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  10. Thank you so much for writing this article. I am currently a mother of a child with ADHD who has been assigned a 1:1 behaviorist. My philosophy ofhow supportvshould be provided tonstudents differs greatly from the school in which my child attends. I am a Behavior Specialistb or a local school district, I trian and mentor staff to be supportive but non -intrusive with the students they are assigned. My child has an aid velcro’ed to him at all times, with “textbook” ABA supports. We have voiced our disapproval many times and have requested changes to be met with the answer, “he’s not ready” each time. I have come upon your article during my research to find valid and scientifically proven reasons why this delivery of support should be changed for my child. He has been the victim of bullying, by peers and their parents (who don’t understand), he is excluded from parties play dates and after school activities because he is not wanted, his self-esteem is low, he hates being followed and not allowed to do things as the others, he is often blamed and oddly held to a higher standard than other students (he must greet people or he’s rude, he must be quiet even as the others talk)…….I am desperate to find change. Thank you for providing me with more “ammunition” for his next meeting.

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Please Step Away From the Child! The Misuse of Paraprofessionals in Inclusive Classrooms

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