When to Stop Using a School Aide?

Fading out your child’s school aide.

I began this year thinking hard about the grade my child was entering…third grade. Third grade is a big step up from second grade. For example, my child now brings homework home nightly instead of weekly. And, third grade is only one year away from when his class size will greatly increase (in fourth grade).

I believe fourth grade and fifth grade are ages where kids are really beginning to find themselves. They are ages that are knocking on the door of pre-teen. Hormones are just around the corner. Socially, cliques or groups are sometimes well-established by fifth grade.

By fifth grade, our child will have spent five years in the same school and will have attended school with many of the same peers. He’ll be comfortable around many of them and, hopefully, many of them will be comfortable with him.

The only question in our mind is the school aide. When should we fade her out?

First, let me discuss my feelings regarding a school aide. Our child’s aide, per his IEP, is an aide only for our child. She is not and has never been a “classroom assistant.” Please make sure your child’s aide, if he/she has one, is not being utilized in this fashion. It is easy for a teacher to “grab” the aide and ask him/her to “do me a favor and hand out papers to the entire class.”

This is not their job. Aides are there only for your child. Period.

Confusion about my child’s aide has happened in the past. The peers of our child have attempted to “borrow” our child’s aide, and so have those peers’ parents (one time I had to say something to the teacher about a fellow parent). Not everyone within a school understands special needs aides and why they are assigned to one child and only one child.

However, we do not object to an aide volunteering to assist in a classroom. As long as they do so without it being detrimental to their assigned job, the support of one specific child.

Our son’s aide knows our feelings about volunteering to help out. This person is very nice and likes to be helpful. Of course she can volunteer to help, we are not unreasonable. All we ask is that her volunteering does not become routine. Again, she is not a classroom assistant. Every once in a while is fine with us, every day is not.

So, when does a child no longer need his/her school aide?

That is the very question I posed to myself at the beginning of this year. After polling parents of older children on the spectrum, fifth grade seemed to be the popular choice for no longer having an aide accompany your child. Earlier than fifth grade was also suggested.

But, how do I prepare my child for this? Remember, this is a child that has known only one school situation his entire life… being in a classroom with a personal aide to help him.

When my child began third grade, I decided to start the weaning process.

First, I tweaked my child’s communication log. I purposely added two “bonus” categories to his daily check off system. I added “Discussing his schedule” and “Noticing a Social Cue.”

Why did I do this?

I recognized that my child needs to begin to take care of himself now, in third grade. If he doesn’t start now, how can we expect him to do it all by himself when he’s older?

What does having two bonus categories have to do with not having an aide in fifth grade?

Here is the way I see it:  In third grade, I feel my child might be too dependent on his aide. If he’s dependent on her now, how can we ask him to suddenly stop? Imagine if we begin next year, fourth grade, by simply telling him, “You’re on your own now, kiddo.”

I feel we needed to start somewhere. So, I looked at how he conducts himself at school. His communication log is set up in such a way that it “reports” on his behavior. What we did was give him a chance to earn “extra points” by beginning to really notice his surroundings.

I thought about my child getting himself around the school campus. Let’s say he has science class at 10:30am. Before that class, he’s out on the yard for recess. He needs to learn to be aware of the time of day and what his schedule says is coming next. He needs to connect the time of day with his schedule. And, he needs to be able to do this without an adult saying to him, “You have two minutes until science class.” He needs to listen for the bell and react to it appropriately.

With this in mind, I want my child to attempt to earn bonus points (which are added to his monthly point total which, in turn, helps him earn his “end of the month surprise”). This, we hope, will encourage him to notice his own schedule. We want him to say to his aide, “My science class starts in ten minutes.” The hope here is to reward him for noticing his own schedule enough times that it will eventually become second nature to him.

I used the same approach with my second bonus topic, “noticing a social cue.” The idea with this one, though, is to find a way to help our child blend in better with his peers.

We feel our child has finally begun to be more aware of social cues. We often discuss with him what is a social cue, how to recognize them, and now we want to encourage him to report when he notices one and even try to describe it.

Social cues are a bit trickier than discussing his schedule, however. Our child is still very inconsistent with social cues. He will still laugh at inappropriate times, he has a nervous laugh that can easily be misunderstood, and he generally has trouble with non-verbal communication.

Why those two bonus categories?

The bottom line here is our attempt to change the status quo. Our child has always had an aide, and now that has to change. Our child is high functioning and his ability to adapt has gotten better each year. He is smart and is becoming more and more responsible. He responds well to tasks and we feel if he gets comfortable with an extra task or two during third grade, by the time he starts fourth grade, we will have given him a much better shot at self-monitoring.

Now that we are laying the groundwork to fade out the aide, when will we actually do it?

Our plan is to begin fourth grade with the aide and then wean him off her support over the first half of that school year.

Are there other ways to help our child begin this process?

I’m considering third grade as the groundwork. We continue to think ahead and project how to best accomplish this lofty goal. We continue to seek suggestions from other parents on the proper time and way to allow your child to exist at school on his own merits.

Someday, we see our child existing at school without an aide. We hope he is confident with his independence. We hope his peers will recognize his “freedom” and accept him as “one of them.”

They will no longer question why this kid gets an aide and they don’t.

For any child to accomplish life without an aide, I’d like to recommend the following steps:   Start the process early so the change can be gradual and everyone involved can have lots of time to get used to the new status quo. Think about your child and what resources you have available that can assist with this change. And, think about how your child will respond to the slow tweaks and the eventual big change. Communicate with him or her. Let them know your plan. Let them know that you want them to go to school one day without an aide.

You need to feel comfortable with their future but so do they. Keep them involved. Sharing this process with them will be worth it for you and for them.

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