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The Role of a Shadow at School

May 2, 2014

By Monica Mejia, MS

When most people think of a shadowing job, they think that it simply entitles following a child, ensuring that no problem behaviors occur at school. However, being a shadow means much more than that. While it is important to help the child with distracting, off task behaviors, it is essential to teach them to become independent.

Perhaps one of the best descriptions of a shadowing job is one that I found in a guide for parents and teachers of autistic children: “The best [shadow] is the one who does herself out of a job!” 1

It is quite important to understand the child’s limitations and strengths, as each child differs in his or her abilities. This is why it is so important to have a behavioral assessment before the shadowing begins. The assessment will help you implement the appropriate program that will target the child’s needs and it will help you set some clear goals for them.

This way you can establish when your help would be needed, and when you can create challenging situations that would help the child learn independence at school. A shadow must also be trained in data collection, as it is quite vital to record data on any program that is being implemented to ensure a thriving shadowing experience.

Some great examples of goals that a shadow normally has are helping the child with his communication, social skills, and academic tasks. In order to successfully help a child with their communication skills, the shadow must be patient and know how to give direct instructions, leaving no room for ambiguity.

It may be helpful to use visual cues such as pictures and signs. It is also vital to give the child the appropriate time to respond, and help them with his answer by prompting only when necessary. As I mentioned earlier, what we want is to help the child become independent, not prompt dependent!

Another important role of a shadow is to assist the child with his or her social skills. It is quite crucial to be sensitive to the child’s feelings. Sometimes they may not feel comfortable in a group setting, this is why it is important not to “throw” the child into a group of people, but maybe introduce him to a small crowd first, increasing the number of students in the group little by little.

You must give the kid his “alone time” and breaks when needed, as it is important not to overwhelm him. It is also important to help the child understand what is appropriate and what is not (such a taking turns, waiting patiently, not interrupting, and proper conversation topics).

A shadow may also need to assist the child with his or her academic skills. However, it is critical not to do the work for them. You must simply help the child understand what is expected of them. In some cases, it may helpful to explore the use a picture of the finished product; clarifying any confusion that might arise. You must help them with their needs, while ensuring they accomplish the task as independently as possible. But that is not all…

In order to have a successful shadowing experience, you must ensure that an experienced licensed therapist (i.e. BCBA) frequently oversee the programs that are being executed and the data that has been collected. This way, the shadow will know when it is necessary to move to the next step in the program execution or when it is required to change it.

Also, having frequent team meetings with the caregivers, teachers, and therapists is fundamental to ensure the implementation of the program is actually working. All things considered, don’t forget that teaching the child how to be independent at school is the ultimate goal. Remember, to stay positive and consistent; and that patience is the key to success!

1 V. Cumine, J. Dunlop and G. Stevenson. Asperger Syndrome: A practical Guide for Teachers. David Fulton Publishers. 1998.

Father playing with his little girl at home Father playing with his little girl at home