How to obtain paraprofessional support - Part I
Advocating for Paraprofessional Support
By Mark S. Kamleiter, Esquire
Obtaining paraprofessional support for children with disabilities is one of the most difficult and trying issues advocates must deal with. The costs of such services, as well as possibly genuine concern about the child’s independence may cause schools to have a natural resistance to approving additional paraprofessional help for children. This article should help parents understand the appropriate role of an educational paraprofessional and to better comprehend the process of obtaining paraprofessional support where it is needed.
It is educational support you want – not the paraprofessional:
In the past, during easier financial times, it was not so difficult to request and obtain one-on-one paraprofessional support for a student who needs it. Schools routinely wrote one-on-one paraprofessional services into IEPs. Then as money became tighter schools began refusing paraprofessional support. Where they agree to provide a paraprofessional, districts tend to refer to “support to the teacher" rather than to the student. This has caused parents to panic, fearing that their children would not receive necessary support.
In order to receive direct paraprofessional support today, parents and advocates must approach the issue from a more indirect, but fundamentally better educational perspective. The law requires schools to provide appropriate “supplementary aids and services," which are necessary for the child to be successful in the “least restrictive environment." 20 U.S.C. §1412 A (5); 34 C.F.R. § 300.550 to § 300.556. This means that today the focus of the parent’s request needs to be more on the actual precise educational “supplementary aids and services" or supports that the child requires for successful education, rather than upon the individual who will provide the supports. Unless the parent or advocate clearly establishes within the IEP the exact nature and extent of the educational supports needed by the child, it is unlikely that they will be successful in obtaining the paraprofessional support sought.
Below I have listed some of the possible educational “supplementary aids and services" that a child might require. You may think of other supports your child needs. Some of those listed here may not be appropriate for your child, but they are representative of the needs of many children requiring paraprofessional support. When I write to the school district or sit in an IEP meeting, I focus entirely on the child’s specific support needs. This is usually an effective way of signaling that additional educational resources (paraprofessional) must be provided to the child. Notice the emphasis upon identifying the frequency, proximity, duration that the support is needed.
Educational Supports: Educationally, the student will require close, proximity support and attention. Some of his/her educational support needs include, but are not limited to:
a. Frequent, positive reinforcement throughout all activities. This reinforcement needs to be implemented on a very frequent reinforcement schedule (every _ minutes/secs.) for successful transitions, initiation of tasks, attention and focus on tasks, and completion of tasks. This will need to be coordinated with his behavior intervention plan (if appropriate). (I would insist upon having an actually reinforcement schedule and requiring data collection).
b. Visual prompts and aids. The student requires the creation of and the constant and continual use of visual aids to learning and understanding. These are an essential part of his learning and functioning processes. This includes not only a daily visual schedule, but also visual guides for his various tasks throughout the school day and across all settings. Such guides and aids need to be kept up to date and should be created for each day’s tasks and functions.
c. Prompts: The student requires continual and constant prompts and cues. He is very easily distracted and if ever left to his own, he may immediately “zone out" or busy himself with self-stimulation or other non-productive behaviors. Excessive down-time is educationally harmful for this child. (I would require data collection on the use of prompts, indicating what type of prompts (visual, verbal, physical) and the frequency of the prompts).
d. Checking for comprehension: As the student begins each task someone will check for comprehension and provide redirection as needed. This checking should be repeated several times during the course of the task completion.
e. Toileting: The student requires individual attention to help him developing his personal daily help skills and toileting. This requires use of visual guides, schedules, verbal and physical prompts and reinforcement. I would require data collection on the prompting and success.
f. Communication: Although the student is verbal he/she requires constant and continual facilitation and prompting relative to his communication. This is needed to help him channel his communication toward more productive and socially acceptable ways of expressing himself. He needs active, planned and unplanned facilitation to help him communicate with and interact appropriately with his peers. He needs help with pragmatic language (checking for understanding, explanation of meaning). This needs to be across all settings. Again, data collection is key. We need to know how often he is being facilitated in his communications with peers and some information on the prompting being used. (Similar services may be needed with a non-verbal child, using assistive technology to communicate)
g. Social/Behavioral: The student requires direct planned and unplanned facilitation in interacting effectively with other students. Again this facilitation needs to take place frequently and continually across all settings. He needs the daily and regular presentation of social stories to help him understand social situations and interactions. These stories will help him understand classroom expectations and to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. We need data collection as to the daily interactions, prompts, etc.
h. Intense Instruction: Despite his intelligence, the student learns best with high intensity, sequential, behaviorally reinforced instruction, through discrete trials, based on the principles of ABA. Nathan needs to receive at least ___ hours of this intensive instruction each day. Data collection needed.
You will note that I do not presume to dictate who shall provide the services, but instead stress what must be done to support the child, how often (frequency) the supports must be given, and whether the support must be in proximity. These services may be provided by the teacher, a classroom paraprofessional, or a one-on-one paraprofessional. The key is that they be provided very regularly, consistently and at every point of need.
Sometimes IEP teams will say that they can provide these supports, without adding a paraprofessional to the class. The reality is that no teacher, even with the help of a general classroom aide could adequately accomplish the list supports provided above. Insisting upon data collection and review of the data is a good way to verify the actual provision of services. If there are real questions as to whether these supports are necessary or as to whether the supports are actually being provided, I find it wise to send in an educational consultant to do classroom observations. Although parents worry that the school will put on “a dog and pony show" for the consultant (which they will), the truth is that it will usually be pretty obvious to a trained observer if the staff are doing things they do not usually do.