Why a 1:1 Aide May Not Be the Answer

Many students that struggle are assigned a 1:1 aide as a form of support to access their educational and social needs. While some can truly benefit from consistent 1:1 support, others can be negatively impacted.


Many 1:1 aides are wonderful people dedicated to the children they support. They want only the best for the school and the families that they work with. They may assist in the provision of special education and related services under the supervision of a qualified teacher or related service provider, such as:

  • provide instruction for small group instruction
  • implement positive behavior support interventions
  • facilitate social interaction between peers with and without disabilities


The expanded utilization of paraprofessionals in instructional roles is NOT based on data that suggest students with disabilities do as well or better educationally with paraprofessionals than they do with special educators or general education teachers. Nowhere does the literature present a strong conceptual or theoretical rationale that explains the practice of assigning the least qualified staff member (aides) to make critical decisions and provide primary instruction for students with the most complex needs (Downing, Ryndak, & Clark, 2000); Giangreco & Broer, 2005).

Well-meaning assistants tend to maintain too close proximity with students.  They often maintain regular physical contact, sitting immediately next to a student, and accompanying the student everywhere. While select students may need this level of help, many do not. Such proximity can be detrimental to the students. They may learn to rely on this level of assistance and peers avoid students due to the presence of an adult.

If the IEP does not teach the student skills to become independent, it may be denial of FAPE. Especially if the aide’s constant presence fostered learned helplessness, which prevents student from learning to function on their own.

Individual 1:1 help can have far-reaching effects on the following:

  • Classroom teacher’s ability to assume ownership for the student
  • The frequency and types of peer interaction
  • The student’s ability to become an independent learner
  • Interfere with natural supports (peers)
  • Loss of privacy
  • Isolation

Teacher Role Becomes Clouded

When the 1:1 aide is seen as the adult in charge of a supporting the student, they can easily turn into the adult in charge of every aspect of the child’s school experience. Many times teachers, counselors, administrators, and parents resort to addressing the aide and not the child.

  • Experienced, skilled teachers defer important curricular, instruction and management decisions about a student to the paraprofessional
  • Curriculum modification and adaptation may be left up to the paraprofessional
  • Extra paraprofessionals may be viewed as the “expert” in understanding the student’s needs.

Change the Conversation

  • Focus on the needs of the student to develop independence. Identify when the aide is necessary and teach specific support strategies to eventually fade the aide when/ if appropriate.
  • Implement instructional/behavioral strategies prior to considering additional assistance.
  • Can the support be provided by sharing an aide with another student? This will allow for more independence while still having staff available when needed. If the students are in the same class and have similar levels of needs, this option can be very beneficial.

Independence Plan

Develop a system for addressing a request for assistance (not a 1:1 Assistant).

  • Current supports
  • Schedule for assistance
  • Goals
  • Fade assistance as soon as independence increases

Every Child is Unique

Every student has has unique needs that will need to be addressed on an individualized basis. When making decisions it is important to understand that their are often many solutions to help overcome challenges. While a 1:1 aide may help some, it may over support another. Finding balance is often the largest challenge in helping our children become happy adults.

What are your experiences with 1:1 support?

2 thoughts on “Why a 1:1 Aide May Not Be the Answer”

  1. This is a really important conversation, and one that bears consideration across many states and public school districts! I wholly agree with your position on the focal change; I also think there are reasons amidst this central issue causing us to alienate strong candidates from seeking 1:1 jobs – there is the Paraprofessional’s perspective to consider as well. I LOVED being a 1:1/Behavior Therapist/ABA Therapist and having the opportunity to work alongside some incredible teachers: as a Master and Bachelor degree-holder in Education, I also knew where my responsibilities lay and where the teacher was my superior. (This, of course, is not to say that a person with the appropriate credentials would not be excellent, or that I am better than anyone else with this same title.) That said, I also felt a class beneath, particularly when anyone used the term “aide.” Then, there is a finance issue: 1:1 positions do not typically pay well (when compared to teaching salaries, etc.), yet when there are several 1:1’s dedicated to particular students throughout a district it can be financially draining on the school system. The school climate, how positions are structured and having open, consistent communication about roles and responsibilities may well contribute to the greatest success for all in the classroom. Having an frank and earnest evaluation of roles and responsibilities may lead to fewer 1:1 positions within a school or district, and those 1:1’s would then handle a broader range of caseloads so that students have some increased independence and that balance across the issues is restored.


    1. Thank you, Sara. What a great response. In my previous district there was a significant push to re-evaluate 1:1s. At first, many parents were understandably upset, but as the school year went on many students were successful and more independent. Those that were not successful the district re-evaluated what the student needed to do to be successful. Many 1:1s are naturally nurturing and compassionate people. As a teacher my good friend was a classroom support aide.


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