Paraprofessionals in Autism Resource and Achievement Project (PARAPro)
The VCU-ACE PARA Project provides professional development for paraprofessionals who serve students with autism spectrum disorder and the teachers with whom they work. The program is designed to create effective educational teams and increase the learning of students with autism spectrum disorder.
The PARA Project provides training and resources on a variety of topics that are relevant to the needs of districts, schools, and the paraprofessional. This includes:
- Enhancing the knowledge of paraprofessionals related to the characteristics and learning needs of students with autism spectrum disorder
- Building skills related to implementing teacher directed instruction and behavioral support strategies
- Assisting local educational agencies in providing teachers and administrators with guidance on the supervisory relationship with paraprofessionals.
A range of formats are used so information is easily accessible to anyone who may need it. Training is provided using both online and live formats.
Paraprofessional Training Standards Approved by VA Board of Education in January 2013
In April 2012, the Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 325 which requires that by September 2014, paraprofessionals who are assigned to work with a teacher who has primary oversight of students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) receive training in student behavioral management within 60 days of assignment to such responsibility. In January 2013, the Virginia Board of Education passed the training standards related to this bill. The document entitled Training Standards for Paraprofessionals Assigned to Work with a Teacher Who Has Primary Oversight of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (PDF) is now available. These training standards were developed in collaboration with VCU-ACE and feedback was obtained from stakeholders throughout the Commonwealth. Because behavior management is complex, competencies to be demonstrated include those beyond basic fundamentals of behavior, and include principles and strategies to reduce interfering behavior, build positive skills, enhance communication, and deliver individualized instruction.
Schools divisions may meet these standards through a variety of training methods, including school district developed training. VCU-ACE provides training which meets these standards through an online course and in limited live training opportunities. Guidelines for paraprofessional training are currently being developed by the VA Department of Education and will be available soon.
Spotlight on Paraprofessionals from Wise County
Paraprofessionals from Wise County, VA who went through the Autism Spectrum Disorders for Paraprofessionals: Providing Effective Instruction and Supports training shared their feedback and experiences in this video (Flash media, 10:18; Video transcripts: MS Word | Plain text):
Paraprofessionals: Who are they?
According to the Virginia Department of Education, a paraprofessional is a school employee who works under the supervision of a licensed staff member to assist in providing instruction, behavioral support and other services to students and their families. Services can be instructional or non-instructional in nature. The prefix "para" means "along side of." Therefore, it is correct to assume that a paraprofessional works along side of an educator. Currently, due to the increase in the population of students with autism spectrum disorder throughout Virginia, a large number of paraprofessionals are performing a variety of roles. These roles include but are not limited to:
- teaching students in classrooms
- implementing behavior plans
- supervising playgrounds
- supervising cafeterias
- monitoring hall monitors
- acting as bus assistants.
Why is professional development needed for paraprofessionals?
There are several reasons for paraprofessionals to be well trained and qualified for the positions they hold with students with ASD. Here are a few of the key reasons:
- Paraprofessionals deliver direct services to children with autism spectrum disorder
- Paraprofessionals work with children with the most challenging educational, behavioral, and developmental needs
- Trained paraprofessionals improve student/child outcomes
- Legislative mandates require paraprofessionals to be trained
What professional development activities are provided for paraprofessionals?
Professional development activities provided by ACE are based on evidence-based practices as dictated by The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, a multi-university center that promotes the use of evidence-based practice for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders, and the Skill Competencies as identified by the Virginia Autism Council. For more information on either of these sources, please click on the links provided.
Professional development activities include:
to be taken for credit through a Virginia university or college
To provide a comprehensive training program that meets the needs of all paraprofessionals serving students with autism spectrum, training must include university / college coursework offered for credit. There are a number of institutes of higher education throughout the state offering courses and programs designed to advance paraprofessional development and knowledge regarding autism spectrum disorders. The VCU-ACE provides a comprehensive list of coursework in autism spectrum disorders and effective intervention practices that is appropriate and tailored to paraprofessionals.
Online training activities developed by ACE
Our online courses offer high-quality, intensive training on aspects of Autism Spectrum Disorders. To participate, you need a computer with (preferably high-speed) internet access, Adobe Flash Player software within your browser, and a sound card with speakers in order to listen to the lectures (full text transcripts are provided for all lectures and multimedia).
Resources are made available on our website. Resources are designed to provide information about important elements regarding ASD and implementation of evidence based practices. Resources consist of many different materials including books, articles, links to websites, guidelines, among other valuable tools.
Now Announcing! Online Course for Paraprofessionals: Autism Spectrum Disorders for Paraprofessionals: Providing Effective Instruction and Supports
VCU-ACE is excited to provide an online course for paraprofessionals who serve at least one student with autism spectrum disorder. The course is designed to target paraprofessionals who provide any type of instruction or behavior support to these students. However, the course is appropriate for any person who works in a support role within the school division or any person who interacts with students with autism spectrum disorder but may not have primary responsibilities for the student. This can include but is not limited to:
- individual student paraprofessionals
- hallway monitors
- cafeteria monitors
- bus drivers and assistants
- school nurses
- resource teachers (physical education, art, music)
- computer lab personnel
- office personnel
and anyone else who would like to learn more about autism spectrum disorder!
A new section of the course runs monthly. Participants may register for any of the upcoming sections available on the website. They will have one month to complete the online course. New sections open on the first week day of the month and close on the last week day of the month. You can register for the course any time, but you will not be able to access the course until the section for which you registered opens. For example, you may register in April for a section that begins in July.
The course consists of 5 modules. Participants are to complete each module in order until all are successfully completed. The course begins on the first day of each month and closes on the final day of the month. Participants can complete each of the 5 modules at their own pace. However, access to the modules will be staggered over the course of the month to help ensure the participant completes the modules in the correct order and devotes the appropriate amount of time to each. Participants will be given access to the modules using the following schedule:
- Modules 1 & 2 will be open during the first week of the section.
- Modules 3 & 4 will open during the second week of the section.
- Module 5 will open during the third week.
Participants can take the entire month to complete all 5 modules but will not be able to begin a module until access is provided.
The following comments were shared by individuals who have completed the online course Autism Spectrum Disorders for Paraprofessionals: Providing Effective Instruction and Supports:
"I thought it was fabulous. I wish I had been able to take this 4 years ago, when I started this job! I really liked being able to see examples in action through the videos."
"Very well thought out - the progression of content was great!"
"It was very helpful to use the Activity Book-Think About It! Apply it! sections and really look at my student as the situations in the videos unfolded! The videos allowed me to see exactly how to implement strategies discussed in the lesson. Especially helpful was showing how the student may be expressing his needs/wants, and then how to apply what I've learned."
"This was so complete. I did not even feel like I was learning. I'm just so glad to have had the opportunity to take this course. It was wonderful!"
"...Well done and perfect for parents and educators alike exactly as is."
"I thought it was great. I told my administrator about it and hope that you offer it again in the future. I would recommend it for anyone working with autistic children."
"Thank you for a great course! I look forward to signing up for more and have recommended this to my child's school. Administration is considering having ALL para pros take this!"
"Please continue these types of classes. HELPFUL, JUST SO HELPFUL."
VCU-ACE is excited about the PARA Program and will be continuing to develop resources and professional development activities. Please be sure to check back frequently to gather more information and participate in other activities.