Inside: Learn tips to get a 1:1 aide added to your IEP, their duties and responsibilities and how to avoid common issues that erupt once you have a paraprofessional added to your IEP.

Some schools call them 1:1 aides, some call them paraprofessionals. Here in my state, we call them PCAs. Yes, another special education acronym. But, regardless of what your state calls it, you landed here because you think that your child needs a 1:1 during the school day.

So, how do you get the school to say yes to adding it to the IEP?

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a 1:1 aide on an IEP
Understand how to get a 1:1 aide on your IEP, and what they will do.

I cannot believe I have not done a post on this already. I meant to, I think I even had a draft at some point, but not sure what happened. This is one of the most common questions I hear from parents.

Guidelines and Justification for a 1:1 Aide/Para on an IEP.

What I find is that most parents have the right ideas in their head, they just have trouble translating their thoughts to IEP language and process. Let’s dig in to “how to get a paraprofessional for my child.”

Because one of the most common answers I hear to this question, from other parents, is: “Have your doctor write a note!” Very well intended, but there is much more to it than that. (I actually have that bit of advice under my 12 Worst Pieces of IEP advice.)

It’s not a totally terrible piece of advice, just in isolation, not really worth it. I chuckle to this day when I think of the day my son’s neurologist said, “Just tell them he needs to be in ABA.” Right. I’ll just walk into an IEP meeting, tell them that and I’ll get it. If only it was that simple!

But, I digress. Back to “how to get an aide for my child at school.”

a paraprofessional assisting a child
Get your child’s needs specified on the IEP, and the aide should meet those needs if added.

What qualifies a student for a 1:1 aide?

This is not something defined in IDEA. And, this is one of those dreaded grey areas of IEPs.

Remember, one of main principles of special education is individualized. If IDEA gave us an a la carte menu of supports and services, that goes against the principle of individualization.

School districts can have policies, guidelines and rubrics to use as a guide, but they cannot be the end-all, be-all for determining special education services.

There is no “well we only give paras to kids who elope.” (that’s a common one!)

Another one is, “you only get a 1:1 aide if it’s a safety issue.”

In both of these scenarios, I’d use the argument of individualization. And, when presented with points like that, put the onus on them. “Really? I looked this up in IDEA and the state regs, and I can’t find that part. Can you tell me where it says that?” Because it doesn’t.

How to Get a Paraprofessional for my Child

Remember, IEPs are based on what a child needs.

  1. Define the need. First thing is, you have to define it. I’ve written many times before about what I think is the most important part of the IEP, the Present Levels section. Present Levels is what drives the IEP services. So you need to make sure that your child’s PL is thorough and accurate. In your head, visualize what you see a 1:1 doing with your child. What areas of need will they address? Attention to a task? Focus? Behavior redirection? Preventing autism elopement? Teaching and redirecting social skills or executive function skills? If your child is in an inclusion setting, perhaps they have a modified curriculum and a para is needed to teach/re-teach the curriculum while regular teacher is teaching the rest of class. Think about what skill deficits and behaviors that your child has that would warrant a 1:1 and make sure they are clearly identified in the Present Levels section or in you ER/RR.

    **A doctor’s note supporting the areas of need/skill deficits may help, but it should not be your only documentation. It is not the slam-dunk that many parents think it is, as far as getting an aide.
  2. Define the tasks/responsibilities. Now that you have the areas of need identified and documented, think about what a 1:1 could or would do with or for your child, to help them with these skill deficits. You need to have the responsibilities and tasks of the 1:1 clearly defined on the IEP. This will prevent any problems later, should your child not make progress or find themselves in a disciplinary setting due to behaviors (behaviors you wanted to be addressed by having a 1:1). You also do not just want someone doing these tasks for your child. The whole idea is to guide and ultimately teach the skills and “fade the aide” as they say. The goal is that your child can do these things on their own, right?
  3. Approach your team. Once you have the areas of need and the tasks defined and written out (by you or your advocate) I would approach the IEP team. No surprises. If this is a genuine need for your child, there is nothing to be gained by springing it on them at a meeting. Request an IEP meeting and say, “I wish to discuss my child having a 1:1 to address the following issues.” And list them. Then list what you see the 1:1 doing during the school day.
  4. Ask to see the form. Many districts have internal documents and forms for teams to fill out, requesting a 1:1. Ask to see it, so that you are aware of how your school determines need. If they refuse, you can do a FOIA request.
  5. Define the 1:1 Paraprofessional. Areas of need, check. Tasks and responsibilities, check. Now, what type of aide is best suited for this? Do you need someone who really knows behaviors? Autism? ADHD? ODD? Reading and literacy? Read your district’s and your state’s websites on what qualifications they look for, as far as a paraprofessional, a PCA, a BHT or a teacher’s aide, just to name a few. You are not getting a babysitterThe ultimate goal is to “fade the aide” and so you want someone who can teach and guide your child towards independence.
  6. Be Prepared to Hear NO. First, think of it from an administrator’s point of view. You basically are asking them to add another full-time or part-time staff person to the payroll. That’s expensive. So in reality, they shouldn’t just be handing them out to anyone who asks. They may offer some other steps before leaping to a 1:1. This is where you have to decide “is this my hill to die on?” so to speak. How far will you take this? Whatever they offer as a result of the meeting, make sure you get it on a PWN. Then take your full ten days to think it over and decide, will you accept this, take to mediation or due process? The special ed world is a culture of NO anyway. So take some time, regroup, gather more data and documentation and keep pushing.
  7. If at first you don’t succeed…If you are told no, go back to the drawing board. Remember, things like “We don’t do that here” and “we don’t have the money for that” are not valid reasons. It’s about the child and their individual needs.

1:1 Aide Justification Form

Here is a sample 1:1 aide justification form that is provided by the state of Pennsylvania.

Mind you, this is NOT something that IDEA requires or even defines. It’s just an example of criteria and justification that some states and districts have set up.

I am providing it as a resource for parents, so that you can also go through the same process that many school districts go through, and build your case for your child’s 1:1 aide.

This is also something that I spend a significant amount of time on in my online training. Consider it, if you want to take your advocacy skills further.

Types of Special Education Aides/Paraprofessionals

As I stated in the first paragraph, different schools and different states call them different things. If you are not having success looking it up online to get more ideas, try changing your wording.

  • one on one aide
  • one on one paraprofessional
  • behavioral support aide
  • behavior support professional
  • special needs aide
  • autism aide
  • autism support staff
  • PCA-personal care assistant

Is a 1:1 Aide LRE for your Child?

LRE or Least Restrictive Environment is something to consider as well. For a kid, it’s really just not too cool to have a grown up hanging around you all the time.

Having a 1:1 is considered a more restrictive environment. Depending on your child and their individual needs, moving them to a different setting (such as a private school) should be considered.

You have to think about your child. What is more restrictive:

  • having an adult shadow them all day, every day in the regular ed setting?
  • or a private setting, which on paper is more restrictive, but the child would be able to walk around the building and campus without an adult, thus enjoying more freedom?
  • Or, is having a 1:1 allowing a child to remain in the regular ed setting, as opposed to a pull-out or self-contained classroom, thus more LRE?

A 1:1 can be considered more restrictive or less restrictive, depending on what the other options are for the child. But IEPs are supposed to be Individualized, so you have to weigh your own child’s situation and pros and cons.

Getting a 1:1 added to your child’s IEP is a serious decision. But hopefully, I have given you enough of a framework to help you get to YES with your school, if your child needs a one-on-one.

Put it as part of your parental concerns when you send that in. Some schools have a 1:1 aide justification form. That usually is filled out by school staff, not parents. Still, if you can find it on the school website, you can use it to craft your parent concerns letter.

Since you specifically asked for it in writing, they are required to address your request via a PWN. So if they say no, ask for it on a PWN and take it from there.

Use the information on my website, as well as what you can learn from your Parent Training Center…to remain professional, child-focused and someone your team looks forward to seeing.

You can maintain a positive relationship with your district.

Remember, there really are only a few bad apples in the bunch, most want to help your child and are doing the best they can with what they have.

Can I request a specific para?

Ok, here we go. Because I think in the chat group, we answer this question frequently.

Your child is NOT entitled to a specific special education paraprofessional. Yes, you can request a specific person. However, the district is under no obligation to fulfill your request.

They have to provide a specific skill set or qualifications as outlined in the IEP. They do not have to provide a specific person.

This is why it is so important to get everything about the aide or para spelled out in the IEP.

If your child has been traumatized by a white male, and has PTSD episodes with unknown white males, that needs to be in the IEP.

Your child’s disability means that they do not transition well or handle change well, that needs to be in the IEP. Want them to notify you when there is a sub, so that you can start preparing them at home in the morning? Get it in the IEP.

I get it. I completely understand that it makes a school day more difficult for your child when they are hit with unexpected changes. However, I see parents spending an awful lot of time and emotional energy on expectations that they have no right to expect. Because it’s not in the IEP.

Do you know what your IEP rights are?
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IDEA is what they have to follow. And IDEA does not say anything about what is best practice, polite, and common courtesy.

If you have an autistic child in your care, and you know there is going to be a substitute para tomorrow, it would be common courtesy to drop mom an email. But if it’s not defined in the IEP, they are under no obligation to do so.

If it is, and they don’t, consider filing IEP complaints for IEP non-compliance.

Keep in mind, as you file your complaint(s), that paraprofessionals and aides are among some of the lowest paid positions in our society. I’m not saying that is an excuse to do a crappy job. But as far as the aide, she may be working 2 or 3 jobs. We don’t (as a society) value these jobs and that needs to change. But that’s a rant for another day.

student with their para
A paraprofessional often will reteach and practice content with a child.

This is a summary of common issues that I find parents have, as pertains to their 1:1 aide or para.

Can the school make my child share an aide?

Again, it depends on how it is written in the IEP.

If it is not specified that your child receives 1:1 adult assistance throughout the duration of the school day, then yes.

small group of kids at school
An aide may be 1:1 or work with a small group.

What to do when the school says “no para/aide!” at your IEP meeting {or that you’re not even to talk with them!}

I get this question/complaint a LOT. I mean, A LOT. It’s obviously a very common practice to exclude aides or paras from IEP meetings. And, in some cases, parents are even asked to not talk to their child’s aide/para.

So what do you do? I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching this, and there are no easy answers. It remains one of those gray areas of special education language, so you just have to work on achieving your goal.

What IDEA says about Paras attending IEP Meetings.

Big fat nothing! IDEA doesn’t define this specific issue. IDEA 2004 defines the mandated IEP meeting team members only. It also has that gray area of “anyone else who has specific knowledge about the child” blah blah blah.

So they are not required to be there. But can a school exclude them?

Based upon what I can find, yes. I cannot find any case law to support or challenge this idea. Of course, in my opinion, it would be best practice to have the child’s entire team there.

But what is best practice and what is law/required can be two different things. Ask a lawyer if you have more concerns.

Why do you want the para/aide to attend the meeting?

Ask yourself this question. Why do you want them there?

If you want them as an ally for your child, a support system/person for you, because you know that they will support your requests during the meeting, then no.

Find an advocate, a friend, a relative, someone else to be your support person. Yes, the para knows your child very well, and sees day to day what is really happening.

But you are asking her to take sides, and that puts her in an awkward position. You should have the data on paper to support your requests for your child.

Find a support person who is not employed by the district.

Also, this is a cost issue for them as they are required to find a pay a substitute for the aide while they attend the meeting. Sure, one aide at one meeting is not a big deal, but district-wide it starts to get expensive, so this cost-cutting practice is very common.

This person likely spends more time with your child than any other, so you need their input. But this is a communication issue, not a meeting issue.

If their feedback in the Present Levels is not correct or is absent, address it via the IEP process and collecting data. And not by having the para speak at the meeting.

If you still want it, ask. Put it as part of your parental concerns when you send that in. “Since Ms. Smith is with my son all day every day and is an integral part of his education, I wish to have her be present at the IEP meeting.

Since you specifically asked for it in writing, they are required to address your request via a PWN. So if they say no, ask for it on a PWN and take it from there.

They said I cannot even talk to my son’s aide!

Ok, this one really grinds my gears, particularly if your child has a 1:1 aide. If a school has a policy like this, there is much to be insinuated from it, I believe.

Think about it–your child is spending 6 hours a day, 30 hours a week with a person, and you’ve been instructed to not talk to them, only the teacher? Wow. Talk about fostering a culture of mistrust!

Do you get any communication from them? Daily communication sheets? Anything? You should be. Or, at the very least, their accurate information and data should appear in the IEP.

At some point, if they are lying to you, it’s going to show–the data or progress (or lack thereof) that your child makes will not match what you are being told.

And, then approach it as an IEP issue. Because let’s be honest, you being allowed to talk to the para isn’t going to fix this, if it’s a deep problem.

Sometimes it’s just a weird chain of command thing. They want parents discussing issues with teachers, period. Don’t take it personally, again, very common policy. They may not fully trust their paras to not give out incorrect information or make promises they cannot keep.

Again, please do not ask these folks to take sides–they have families to feed too. Don’t put them in an awkward position, they did not make these policies.

Address the school board. Ask them to change the policy. Get other parents on board with you. Who attends an IEP meeting, as far as district personnel, is decided by the district (once they have met the IDEA requirements).

I do think parents should be able to communicate with the people who are spending so much close time with their kids. I’ve heard of many districts who do not allow any communication, not even a “did he have a good day?” or “did he eat his lunch?”

Bottom line–whatever communication that you need to go back and forth between you and the aide, make sure it’s happening. They can ask you to only speak to the teacher, but they are still required to meet your child’s needs.

Communication, training and progress monitoring are all parts of the IEP–so use the process to get the information you need. The success/failure of your IEP meeting and your child’s needs being met should not be contingent upon one person attending the meeting.

If that is the case, you need to review your approach to the IEP meeting and IEP process.

Take some time, write down all your thoughts and concerns, and request an IEP meeting to get this included.

Like everything else, read and use your IEP procedural safeguards. Most of all, the goal here is to get everyone’s expectations documented and on the same page. Otherwise there are unrealistic expectations on all sides, which only makes our relationships more contentious. (like we need that!)

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