The 411 on 1:1 Aides
If you believe your child requires a 1:1 aide in order to access a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) and execute certain tasks, you have the right to request one during your IEP meeting. If it is determined that a 1:1 aide is required for your child to access FAPE, the district is required to figure out how to provide that service to you at no cost.
It’s important to know that not all aides have the same training and qualifications. For example, school districts often use aides that have no special training and are paid minimum wage. Depending on the type of support you’re requesting, your child may need a specialist — and you and your child have the right to request working with a specialist first.
When you’re prepared with information about 1:1 aides before the IEP meeting, it’s a lot easier to advocate for your child’s exact needs. Here, we’ll walk you through the process of requesting an aide with expert tips from special education attorney Grace Clark and special education advocate Dr. Sarah Pelangka.
When should you request a 1:1 aide for your child?
Your child may benefit from a 1:1 aide for a variety of reasons: behavior management, instructional support, activities of daily living (i.e., toileting), safety (for health or mobility), social skills training, and task redirection, just to name a few. The reason(s) a child requires the support of an aide will be determined at an IEP meeting.
Qualifying for a district-provided school aide
Before your child can get support from a 1:1 aide, your district will likely want to conduct an assessment to determine whether your child qualifies for the support.
Depending on your district, this assessment may be called:
- RSIA (Related Services Independent Assistant)
- SCIA (Special Circumstances Independent Assistant)
- SCES (Special Circumstances Educational Support)
After receiving the results of the assessment, the team will determine which type of aide or support your child requires.
Types of school aides
1:1 Aide: This is a district-provided aide whose job it is to strictly provide your child with 1:1 support (not supporting any other student) during times that are designated on the IEP.
- If the aide is assigned for the full school day, they are entitled to breaks; a separate individual is required to step in at that time, and they, too, should be an aide (it cannot be the teacher, since they are supporting the entire class).
Behavior Aide: This is a district-provided aide whose specialty is to support behavior, and who has additional training in the area of special education.
- Some(not all) districts provide actual RBTs (Registered Behavior Technicians), but behavior aides are not legally required to be RBTs.
Instructional Aide: This is a district-provided aide whose purpose is to support the student’s ability to attend and follow along with academic instruction.
- The instructional aide does not replace a teacher because they do not have a teaching credential, but this aide works to supplement and support the teacher’s instruction. In this clip, Dr. Pelangka explains how an instructional aide offers support:
Independent Nursing Services: This is a 1:1 nurse who supports students that require nursing services throughout the day. This aide must be a licensed/registered nurse who only supports your child.
NPA Aide: This is a 1:1 aide that the district hires through a non-public agency to support your child. You have the right to request an NPA aide if and when:
The district is unable to hire/provide staff in ample time.
The district’s aide has proven to be unable to adequately support your child (this must be demonstrated through data).
Your child requires extensive behavior supports that the district-provided staff is unable to provide.
1:2 Aide Support: This is a district-provided aide who supports your child and one additional student throughout the day (or whenever the IEP designates the additional support).
Extra Classroom Support: This is an additional adult or paraprofessional (non-credentialed adult) who is added to your child’s classroom to provide support to your child when needed, but they can support any of the other students within the classroom as well.
- This is not 1:1 support. Ensure that the wording in your IEP is clear regarding when this additional adult is to be supporting your child.
NOTE: Different school districts may have created their own names for aides that have different functions, so always clarify the roles within your own district.
Practical considerations of 1:1 aides
A 2010 study published in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities suggests that overusing 1:1 paraprofessionals can have negative effects on students for the following reasons:
Students and aides are sometimes seated in the back or to the side of the classroom, physically separated from the class.
Having an aide can foster unnecessary dependence if the student becomes hesitant to participate without paraprofessional direction, prompting, or cueing.
The presence of an aide can interfere with a child’s ability to form peer relationships, as the presence of an adult aide can create physical or symbolic barriers between the student and their peers.
Some students may feel infantilized or embarrassed about always having an adult with them.
Aides are not always skilled in providing instruction; some do the work for the students they support in an effort to help them keep up, and the presence of another adult sometimes means teachers will be less involved.
Students with disabilities often do not exercise choices that are developmentally typical for their age, and so may miss opportunities to develop self-control.
If a student dislikes having paraprofessional support, they may develop undesirable behaviors such as running away, using foul language, and acting aggressively.
Some school districts may point to this research in order to argue that a 1:1 aide is equivalent to a more restrictive placement. While this statement may have some truth to it, remember that an aide is certainly not more restrictive than a segregated special education classroom. Often an aide can be the support that makes inclusion in general education possible, and in that case it is less restrictive.
What the authors of the above research recommend is a plan to fade out aide support when appropriate, and to include alternative supports. They also recommend that before considering a 1:1 aide, IEP teams should consider what other supports might allow a student with a disability to make meaningful progress in the general education classroom. These include:
teacher training (for example, teaching mixed-ability groups and facilitating social interactions)
use of existing school-wide supports (such as a learning labs)
use of a paraprofessional assigned to a class rather than an individual student
co-teaching in the classroom
positive behavior supports
Prepare to discuss 1:1 aides at your IEP meeting
Review your child’s current IEP, paying special attention to listed goals and challenges, and gather any data you’ve collected from monitoring your child’s progress toward their IEP goals (number of prompts, any difficulties, minutes of attendance, etc.).
If you know your child needs an aide that is specially trained in a particular area, you will have to make the case that the aide’s special training is required for your child to receive FAPE.
Familiarize yourself with the different titles and duties of various aides so that you can advocate for the most beneficial support for your child. For example, a child with autism who requires applied behavior analysis (ABA) would need an aide specifically trained in ABA. When you use the term "ABA" or "paraprofessional" instead of simply “aide” in an IEP meeting, then you’re referring to a specific definition and quality standard that must be met to fulfill your request.
Request an IEP meeting to discuss your child’s progress (or lack thereof), and share the data you’ve collected about your child’s performance as well as the list of possible providers you’ve assembled.
Request permission (in writing) to record the meeting at least 24 hours in advance. (Note: in California, you don't need permission to record. You do, however, need to give them warning, in writing, beforehand).
What should you do during the actual IEP meeting?
Record the meeting (assuming you’ve already given warning, or requested and received permission, at least 24 hours in advance).
If you believe your child needs support in certain areas, clarify that the district-provided aide will be able to assist your child with those specific activities at specific times. Clarify whether the aide will be assisting only your child or other children as well, ask specific questions about the aide’s function, and include the specific duties of your child’s aide in the IEP to avoid any confusion.
If you request an aide with specific training and the district agrees with you, then the aide’s special training must be written explicitly into the IEP.
Wherever your child requires assistance (for example, for behavior, prompting, or communication assistance), write that required assistance into the IEP goal. If it’s written into the goal, the district has to provide it.
Consider setting limits on when the aide supports your child socially — for example, during lunch, your child must sit next to a peer and not the aide. You may also want to ask how the aide will be supervised, and make sure that a licensed teacher oversees any modifications or curriculum supports.
Whenever a 1:1 aide is added as a service, immediately draft a fade-out plan as a team in order to dictate what the purposes of the aide are and what criteria need to be met prior to the aide’s removal (be sure these criteria are observable and measurable and have clear parameters).
If your request for an aide is not granted, ask the district to provide an Assistive Technology (AT) assessment for your child so that you can review alternative services and devices that may help your child access their curriculum.
When you have a 1:1 aide
Remember that the aide does not work for you; they work for the district. You cannot request an individual person in your IEP (such as Ms. Mary), only a title, and the district can switch out the individual at any time for someone else who is equally qualified (on paper, anyway).
Agree on a protocol for days when the regular aide is off, and for times they need coverage.
Many districts have rules against paraprofessionals communicating with parents because they are not trained to do so. Make sure you have an official communication plan (and if the aide gives you their cell number, don’t mention it to the school, and don’t over-use it).