Benefiting from a Paraeducator

Guest Blog from @jeffslifeI sit down at Alex’s tri-annual IEP meeting expecting it will last about 15 minutes. I squeeze into the minuscule seats with Alex’s teacher and OT, his PT and speech therapist, and a nice guy from the DOE (Department of Education) who seems to run the show. We talk about Alex.

First, we go over familiar territory on Alex’s IEP, his progression on language, his ability to do simple addition. He delivers the newspapers to classrooms every morning with a staff member, a vocational training.  They hope Alex (13, PDD-NOS) will continue using fewer and fewer prompts in the months ahead.

“But sometimes he doesn’t understand that he has to deliver the paper and leave the classroom,” his teacher reports. “He wants to say ‘hi’ to everyone and examine everything in the class…” He’s also bolted from his occupational therapist and tried to make for the school playground.

“We’ve been discussing,” says his unit teacher, “that Alex could benefit from a one-to-one paraeducator. I think with hormones and puberty and everything going on, it’s becoming a little too much for him to focus.”

My kid will truly, really, never – as the shriveling budgets and the fiscal years pass one-by-one – ever live independently. (As they said back in the NICU when he was born, “I just don’t want you to think you’ve ever going to have a normal baby.”)

I bring my own Alex stuff, too. Can they help him understand that he shouldn’t leave our apartment and bust in on neighbors? Stop biting his arm when frustrated, stop unraveling and ripping his own T-shirts? Can they help him understand the dangers of traffic? Can anyone?

“I can’t have him run across the street when I have five kids back here on this corner,” his teacher says. She adds that sometimes Alex will also listen only to her, and not to the class paras and other staff members. Familiarity breeds authority with Alex.

Disruptive? Disturbing? “I wouldn’t say ‘disruptive’ and I wouldn’t say ‘disturbing,’ either,” the unit teacher replies. She’s discussed the para idea with others, and believes Alex would benefit in focusing and transitions “just for one or two years. We don’t ever want him to become dependent on one person.”

Including dad, I realize. They called to remind me of this appointment a couple of times. How come they never mentioned the para discussions?

We move to Alex’s other potential vocational work, based on his interests: janitorial, laundry. He loves laundromats. “He mopped the kitchen floor the other day,” I say, feeling kind of like a defendant. “Of course, we do have a Swiffer, and I think he just likes to press the button on the handle.”

“We use erasable markers, and have him wipe up the marks,” his teacher says.

“We don’t need to create extra spills in our house,” I say.

“We have a class that goes out to do laundry every Thursday,” the unit teacher adds. “It isn’t Alex’s class, but if he had a one-to-one para, he could go with them.”

They want it, they say he needs it, and for now all they have to do is write it on the IEP and the City of New York, for some reason I still don’t understand amid my growing cynicism, must come to up with the para. In another timeline, Alex might get booted from public school now. How much longer will that apparent right of mine continue?

“You could write that Alex needs a ride on the space shuttle and the city has to produce it,” I said. “Put down that he needs a BMW, will you?” No sense abandoning humor yet.

Jeff Stimpson is a native of Bangor, Maine, and lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of “Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie” and “Alex the Boy: Episodes from a Family’s Life With Autism” (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at jeffslife.tripod.com/alextheboy, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s Digest, Autism Spectrum News, the Lostandtired blog, The Autism Society news blog, and An Anthology of Disability Literature (available on Amazon). He is on Linked In under “Jeff Stimpson” and Twitter under “Jeffslife.”  Also here on Autisable @jeffslife

Have you had a similar experience in an IEP? Tell us in the comments!

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Rob Gorski
Father to 3 boys with #Autism, 1 with Fragile Health. Award winning blogger, techy and advocate. #AutismDad @GuardianLocate
Rob Gorski

Rob Gorski

Father to 3 boys with #Autism, 1 with Fragile Health. Award winning blogger, techy and advocate. #AutismDad @GuardianLocate

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