Before I became a speech & language therapist, I worked for two years as a special education aide. Those two short years were enough to learn just how undervalued and underestimated a paraprofessional or special education aide can be in terms of their role in a child’s progress. Often I was assigned elsewhere while a student went to speech therapy or other related service providers, and even when I was present it was somewhat rare a service provider brought me into the activity and taught me the strategies I could be using to help my student. Of course, there are days I am guilty of being inattentive to personal care assistants (PCA’s) as well, but when I’m at my best, I strive to make the most of a student’s aide/support person. That’s because I’ve seen firsthand how much a student’s progress can skyrocket simply by teaching *one* strategy or giving them *one* task to complete with the student prior to the next week’s session. Below are some of the strategies I’ve found immensely successful:
a) Teach a simple visual, verbal, or tactile cue for the sound I’m targeting to the aide. Ask if the aide can work on the target sound (ideally daily for only a few minutes each day) with the child.
b) Give a copy of the adapted book you worked on in speech therapy to the aide. Ask the aide to read the book with the student during break periods, transitional periods where the student is otherwise not too occupied, and/or quiet reading times. Provided additional adapted books that haven’t yet been read in therapy if desired. Make sure to discuss the target words or concepts in the adapted book(s).
c) If you are trying to teach a minimally verbal student to use a target word (or phrase, or picture to exchange,etc.), discuss what you are working on with the aide and ask him/her to elicit production in various natural situations (using “want” to request lunch foods or a favorite toy, for example).
d) Most obviously and importantly, include the aide or PCA in the activities you are doing during sessions! This person spends a huge amount of time with your student, often the entire school day, and they have immense potential to change your student’s life!
Long blog post short: Special Education Aides and Paraprofessionals matter! Don’t neglect them.