AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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The Important Role of Paraprofessionals

The primary role of a paraprofessional is to assist the teacher in providing a meaningful education for a child with autism. A paraprofessional can assist the student in achieving their educational goals through direct instruction and indirect support in the classroom. A paraprofessional can help mediate communication, socialization and behavioral challenges and encourage the student to have success in the educational environment.

It is important to highlight that paraprofessionals should be working in concert with the educational team. Clear roles should be defined for all team members. Clear instructional plans and schedules developed by the educator/other professionals and the paraprofessional should outline expectations for all team members. Collaboration will provide everyone the opportunity for success.

Below are tips and strategies that paraprofessionals can use in the classroom when working with students with autism.

Providing instruction

Students with autism will have an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) as defined by local special education agencies. Addressing the goals and objectives in the IEP as well as assisting students to participate in the general education curriculum can be one of the responsibilities of the paraprofessional. Written instruction plans for implementation of the IEP objectives should be developed to ensure quality instruction and should be shared with the paraprofessional. Instructional plans for the objectives should include:

  • materials needed for instruction
  • prompting strategies to promote learning
  • performance that is expected of the student
  • method to collect data on the student's performance

Each objective on an IEP must be addressed. It is helpful if each objective has some form of educational plan to address the area of need. Some teams prefer to have members design instructional plans based on their expertise (e.g. speech pathologist writes instructional plans for expressive language objectives, special education teacher writes program for literacy objectives); some teams prefer to develop the instructional plans collaboratively.

Within a general education setting a student with autism may be expected to participate in the typical instruction of the classroom. In this setting a paraprofessional should focus on ensuring that the student with autism understands the content and assignment and has the supports needed to participate. A paraprofessional may need to provide additional information to a student to ensure comprehension. Students with autism are typically visual learners. Support in the general education setting might include writing a list of steps that need to be completed or using a highlighter to visually emphasize the key points discussed verbally by the teacher. Translating the content relayed verbally to visual information can promote success for an individual with autism.

The important thing to note within the realm of instruction is that a paraprofessional should have support to implement the educational program.

Promoting peer interaction

A paraprofessional can also be helpful in encouraging peer interaction and promoting success with peer relationships. Paraprofessionals in the classroom must walk a fine-line between working in proximity to the student for whom they are providing support to ensure success while encouraging the student with autism to interact with their peers and while fading into the background of the school setting.


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