To AIDE or Not to AIDE

This topic appears on every forum I’m a part of. Parents that are frustrated with either their child’s placement or progress and everyone who wants to support that parent, starts chanting in unison, “FIGHT FOR A 1:1 AIDE!”. Not the most clever chant, but it’s there, loudly in the parent’s ears. The parent, who just wants to help their child be successful, hears the rally cry and joins, not knowing the downside of asking for an aide. Then, inevitably, people pipe in with all of the reasons they will be denied so that the parent can be armed. Before we get to those “reasons”, let’s talk about LRE.

LRE or Least Restrictive Environment means that your child should be educated in the LRE possible. Sometimes that’s a general education classroom, sometimes it’s a self contained classroom and sometimes it’s a therapeutic day school. Sometimes a 1:1 aide in a general education environment is actually more restrictive than a self contained classroom. Think about it…in a self contained classroom, you may have 13 kids and a few adults, let’s say a student: adult ratio of 13:4. With a 1:1 aide, your child has a person assigned to them, so their student:adult ratio is actually 1:2 because they have a teacher AND an aide…more restrictive!

So many people believe that a 1:1 aide is the magical answer to all of the classroom and educational challenges. People believe the 1:1 aide will provide more attention, help a child stay on task, learn more, navigate challenging social situation and have an overall more successful educational experience. These are all accurate. And, in some cases, this is a very valid option. However, at what cost?

An adult of their own! A 1:1 aide means that there is a human in the school that is literally assigned to your child.  Their sole responsibility is to be with and support your child, all…day…long. Sounds wonderful, right? Well, sometimes it is.

And, sometimes, it’s everything but wonderful.

Think about your job. How would your co-workers respond to you if you had an authoritative figure sitting next to you all day? I get that this is a completely different environment, but is it? Children know things. The other children in the class observe things. They know that person is there to help your child. There are many potential pitfalls to having a 1:1 aide.

Limited social experiences: Would your coworkers engage with you if your boss was sitting next to you all day or if they knew their communication was being observed? Probably not. While this is less impactful in the primary years, children begin to pull away from a setting that has adult supervision constantly present. Having an adult present in the classroom greatly impacts your child’s social interactions. I’ve seen parents request an aide for recess and PE, two of the most social times of the day. If that aide is standing near your child, you are greatly impacting their social experiences and thus, development.

The aide becomes the teacher: This is not the goal, of course. Teachers want to teach. Teachers rarely want to push the responsibility of educating a child off onto another. But, when you have 25 needy brains in your room and 1 of them is needier than the others and you happen to have an adult assigned to help said needy brain, well, you can figure out this one on your own. That aide just became your child’s teacher. It’s a natural passage…teacher teaches to the class, little Johnny missed some of the instruction, but, hey, that’s okay, he has an aide and BOOM…the aide reteaches everything, next to him, 1:1. The aide has now become the teacher. So, over time, who does the student reach out to when he needs help? The aide.

Less communication: As an admin, I often checked in with my gen ed teachers of students who had 1:1 aides to inquire about performance and progress of that student. I wanted the teacher to know that she is still responsible for that child. Sometimes, she/he would say, I rarely interact because they have a 1:1 and then we’d have to talk. But the truth is that is common. When a child has needs that are so significant that they have their own adult, much happens through that aide including communication to the teacher about the student, communication to the student from the aide instead of the teacher and often the information shared by the teacher to the parent is verbatim from the aide. This doesn’t mean the teacher is doing anything to purposely harm your child…she’s simply using her resources to manage a classroom filled with different needs and often she is doing her best to make sure the child’s needs are met and that’s the reasons she goes through the aide…to make sure the person working directly with the child understands the expectations.

Learned helplessness: This is REAL. Here’s what often happens in the classroom. There is a human assigned to your child. He is given a task and she is right there to help him successfully complete that task. Right there. Why? Because that is her job. Your child is her sole job. Can’t figure out the math assignment? No worries, the aide is there to save him. Can’t find his book? No worries, the aide is there to save him. See where I’m going with this? I know it’s hard to watch our children struggle, but a little bit is not only okay, it’s normal and good for them. So, understand that as an intelligent, thinking human, your child will get use to having a person there to have their back all the time. That means they learn to be helpless. That means they don’t practice the skills they need to practice such as things like:
-Filling out the assignment notebook
-Ensuring they have all the materials they need
-Listening to the teacher’s directions
-Organizing their desk
-Seeking assistance by other methods when they are confused
-Paying attention to nuances and language
See, they have a person now. They don’t need to do all of these things. So, as the student gets older, they’ve not worked through these challenges because they’ve had a person. But they won’t ALWAYS have a person!  So what do they do when they are in 6th grade and don’t have an aide anymore? They struggle because they’ve learned to rely on someone else to do all of these things.

So, now that I’ve scared you away from an aide, let’s take a look at some reasons an aide could be helpful and how to avoid some of these pitfalls.

Safety. If your child is a risk to others or to themselves, an aide can be extremely helpful. This aide should be trained to intervene when the child is displaying signs of heightened emotion. They should be taught to follow a behavior plan and given the resources to respond appropriately.

Health. If your child has a significant medical condition that needs ongoing and immediate attention, an aide would be appropriate. If your child requires personal care such as toileting or needs mobility assistance because of a wheelchair or prosthetics.
Specialized equipment. If your child struggles to communicate his needs and thoughts or uses any specialized equipment such as a communication device, an aide may be important to ensure the child can access the curriculum.

BIP implementation. If your child has a significant behavior plan filled with things like a sensory diet or a BIP, an aide may be important. If the BIP is more than a general education teacher can implement on her own, ask for an aide. With a BIP, consistency is key and if the teacher can’t implement it reasonably then it won’t work.
Instruction. If your child is 1.5-2 years behind or more academically, is unable to keep up in class, struggles with attention and focus, and/or has behavioral needs, it may be time to consider an aide (or a different placement). It may not be the right decision as other accommodations or instruction may be a more appropriate route, but it’s at least worth a conversation with the team.

If you do secure a 1:1 with your school. There are ways to ensure success and avoid some of the pitfalls I mentioned earlier.

Include consult time in the IEP. Under the section that details services and service minutes, request that at least 15 mpw be included to ensure the teacher and the aide have the opportunity to speak and plan.

Discuss independence. Discuss the role of the aide. Discuss who will be responsible for training the aide. Discuss the concerns you have about independence. Some districts will allow documentation of the role of the aide in an additional information page. If not, you can address this in the accommodations or goals section.

For example, if the student is working on independent functioning, maybe a goal is
Goal: The student will complete his assignment notebook independently 4 out of 5 days per week.
Benchmark 1: The student will check off a pre-filled assignment list ⅘ days per week.
Benchmark 2: The student will complete one subject in his assignment notebook 4 out of 5 days per week.
Benchmark 3: The student will complete his assignment notebook for all subjects with support 4 out of 5 days per week.

Accommodations could include something like:

Student will be allowed a motor break when he requests
Student will be provided sensory diet menu
Student will be provided space for school supplies

Set parameters and expectations for the aide. Discuss how this will be monitored. Make sure the team knows that although you want support, you still want your child to learn, grow and be as independent as possible.

Set up ongoing, but brief, conferences with your child’s teacher. This makes it more probable that she’s going to stay very involved in what’s happening with your child. You can do this by phone or in person. Make them quick. Don’t take up a ton of the teacher’s time, but this is a good opportunity to connect and have continued conversation about your child’s independence.

A 1:1 aide is sometimes the answer to educational challenges. However, there are factors to consider when deciding if an aide is the right move. Be thoughtful when you are considering what you desire for your child. Be thoughtful when you are considering what you desire for your child. More is not always better. Think about the outcome you desire and play it backwards. Is an aide really the answer?

Here’s to inclusion, progress and advocacy!

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Disclaimer:  There are exceptions to every rule.  Children and adults with disabilities are people with their own individual needs and desires.  The ideas and advice given in this blog are for your consideration only and should not be taken as legal or educational advice, as every single situation is different.