Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
My son Matthew has had the same aide for five years now. The term and meaning of this service personnel has changed over the years within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). For two years he was in a special day class (SDC) which has a variety of disabled students and now in his third year of an autism class at another Elementary school.
At one time they were called one to one aides or one on one aides. Then it changed to temporary support assistant (TSA) with the title now referred to as Additional Adult Assistance (AAA). There is also the term health care assistant (HCA), which performs authorized medical procedures in addition to those of a special education assistant. They require training certificates as well like first aid and CPR.
Positions can range in hours from 4, 6 or 8, depending on the length of the school day and if the student rides the bus. It will need to be written into the IEP that the student needs the assistant for the bus rides. The transportation page of the IEP has a section for related services and codes for health care assistant on bus, assistant for bus or a licensed vocational nurse for the bus.
There are sections of the behavior support plan that is also part of the IEP that are listing who reports and observes the behavior. The assistant can be listed here as the person responsible. For establishing and maintaining the plan the assistant is also listed as another professional who will utilize the reinforcer.
Special Education classes have classroom assistants that are not assigned to any children, but work with everyone in the class. This can be called a baseline assistant, classroom aide or teacher's assistant. Depending on the number of students there may be more than one of these assistants, as is the case for Matthew's classroom.
Another issue to consider and add into the IEP is the policy for when the assistant is absent or on vacation and the need for a substitute assistant.
A parent wanting to request an aide should discuss ahead of time with the teacher on how this process works. The major difference from years ago is that this is meant to be a service for the student and not a specific person assigned to them. You will need to specify what portions of the day the assistance is needed and what supports are needed. An alternate plan for when the assistant is absent needs to be noted.
The nurse sends home notes that refer to the AAA as a health assistant and she verbally uses this term when speaking to me. At the last IEP meeting I inquired to whether the AAA was also a health assistant, which is not the case.
Matthew's current IEP states the following:
Additional Support - Additional Assistance for behaviors that including, fleeing from the classroom, scratching others, pulling on others hair, pulling on others clothes, scratching himself and lack of communication.
An AA will provide services throughout the instructional day including lunch and recess. The AA will continually work with Matthew to work independently on tasks that he can master without prompting and cueing.
AA to inform Matthew when AA will take a break and leave an activity for him to work on. Additional assistance to cover when AA goes on her breaks or is absent from work.
AA to assist with behavioral, toileting and academic needs.
This was an amended IEP done in November of 2006 since Matthew was running out of the classroom when the assistant was on break or absent and I wanted that to be reflected in his behavior support plan. The annual IEP held in June of 2006 stated the following:
Supports - recess, lunch, fieldtrips, assemblies, library, computer lab
Responsible staff - special day program/AUT teacher, AA, baseline assistant
Additional supports - appropriate trained staff for behavioral support
The annual 2005 IEP stated the following:
Supports - Matthew needs a AAA who is closely focused on Matthew's growth and ability to succeed in a new environment. He needs visual support systems in place so that he can benefit from different experiences.
Responsible Staff - General Education Teacher, Special Education Teacher, AAA
Additional Supports - AAA to support desired behaviors at school and implementation of communication system, visual schedule and picture cues for requesting.
Teacher and AAA to review program on a daily basis.
Give Matthew opportunities to request assistance from more staff throughout the school day.
Modifications - AAA to support desired behaviors at school and implementation of communication system including ESY
The 2004 IEP mentioned the following:
Supports - to mainstream into general education classes, Matthew needs a 1-on-1 support assistant who is closely focused on Matthew's growth and ability to succeed in a new environment. He needs visual support system in place so that he can benefit from different experiences.
Responsible Staff - general education teacher, special education teacher, TSA assistant
Instructional Accommodations - repetition of instruction, rephrasing questions, redirection to activities, modeling of task, reinforcement and visual cues to modify behavior. Visual learning strategies and sensory input (sensory diet) with support from TSA.
Additional Supports - TSA - bus, school and playground - PECS cards and communication system.
He will have the support of a consistent TSA who will assist throughout the school day. The assistant will help with self-help skills, insure safety and help Matthew to access all areas of the curriculum.
The behavior support plan back then was a different format. Modifications and suopport in the school/classroom environment - Temporary Support Assistant in all areas of the school, on the bus, on field trips and in the bathroom and cafeteria. Use of visual supports for transitioning and choice making. Modeling, quiet environment. Use of verbal visual and physical prompts. Redirection to task. Repetition.
As you can see from these past IEPs the terminology and descriptions has changed a lot over the years. After looking over these past IEPs I tend to like the way things were before these changes as it spelled everything out more clearly.
Some of the pros for having an assistant for your child is the personal care for toileting, they can facilitate peer interaction, promoting social skills, can provide supervision at recess time.
The negatives are that the assistant becomes the tutor and can end up doing their own curriculum, an unnecessary dependence on the assistant that can interfere with peer interactions. Many of them are not properly trained, can have detrimental effects, as the goal is for the student/child to achieve independence. In many cases the least qualified staff member is assisting the most complex person. This also can result in lower levels of teacher involvement, which should be the same level of attention for everyone in the classroom.
An assistant should be there to support the child and not to teach the child. The teacher is the one who fills out the communication notebook between parent and school. I personally feel that after a few years the assistant should be changed. I have been trying to accomplish this for over a year now with no result as there is a lack of available assistants to fill the position.
Last school year as I arrived at the classroom with both my sons for the parent-teacher conference I was informed that the assistant wanted to be there as well. Instead of this being a conference about my child it was a teaching session to the assistant on how to handle Matthew's behaviors. I have repeatedly suggested using short, simple commands of only a few words and to do one direction at a time. This is even mentioned in one of the guidelines through LAUSD. I called the Assistant Principal to complain about this ambush and felt that I should have been consulted beforehand.
While attending a meeting where the presentation was on the role of the AAA I asked the speaker about that incident and she said it should not have taken place. When I repeated this feedback to the Assistant Principal in November I was told to put in writing to the teacher on the parent-teacher conference form that I did not want the assistant there. She missed the point I was making that I should not have to take that step since it is a parent-teacher conference.
Consider whether you want the assistant to be part of the therapies at school. I prefer Matthew to work with the OT and SLP without the assistant and feel it is not necessary. For Adaptive PE they have combined the sessions with an MR class and the aide is needed as there is some waiting to be done and they are not in the classroom but outside.
A few years ago at the other Elementary school this same assistant was used to help with the state testing of the general education students. This caused a change in his routine with no advance warning or visual support to comprehend why his assistant showed up at lunchtime. Luckily it only happened for two days, otherwise I would have sent a letter with my complaint to the school district. The next year they did not utilize the assistant.
There is a book that will help guide you in what the paraprofessional can do in the classroom with examples, forms and a listing of common errors that take place. This is a training manual for professionals and a useful tool for parents.
One to One Aides in the Classroom - Woodsmall Law Group
Teacher Assistants - this is in Prince Edward Island, Canada
LAUSD Job openings
Teacher Assistant and Aide Career Overview
Safety In The Autism Classroom
Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.