All Woman

Special needs notes: The merits of a shadow/teaching assistant


Tuesday, March 11, 2014    

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DEPENDING on your child's special needs, having a shadow in the classroom may be very beneficial in helping him keep up with the rest of the class if he is in a regular classroom. The shadow/ teaching assistant reinforces what is being taught in the classroom on a one-on- one level. A shadow not only reinforces principles being taught, but also utilises different methods that match the child's individual learning plans in order to achieve his goals. If your child receives therapy outside the regular school setting, his shadow will also follow the child to these sessions and impart principles learnt there in the classroom.

There are two schools of thought as it relates to the shadow experience, and depending on who you talk to, you may hear the pros or the cons. One school of thought refutes the use of shadows and contends that children with shadows become dependent and take a longer time to actualise their independence in the school setting. This school of thought believes strongly in small, specialised classrooms that cater to your child's special needs.

The other school of thought posits that the use of a shadow enables children to be better able to fit in the regular classroom and would therefore make them more quickly adapt to mainstream. This school contends that a shadow must be used as much as is necessary, and argues that dependency can be weaned gradually when the child is ready. This school of thought further holds that children adjust quickly after they graduate from a shadow.

As with every child, the decision is really dependent on the unique needs of the child and the current school setting they are in.

In addition to being in a very small class, my son Amari has a shadow and the outcome has been beneficial. He follows his teacher very well as the classroom is small, but the shadow assists with reinforcing lessons taught. Additionally, she helps to translate strategies learnt in the classroom from what is done at therapy.

If you decide to utilise a shadow, understand that the shadow will be working with your child for a full day and would therefore need a full salary. This could therefore be a pricey undertaking as you may already be financing private school, various therapy sessions etc. Here are some ideas that will enable the shadow experience without breaking the bank too much.

1. As with what we did, if your child has a nanny that would normally work with you at home, they can double as a shadow for your child at school. A shadow in this scenario alleviates the cost for after-school care. It will involve you doing more at home, but it is a workable option for younger children once your nanny has the requisite skill sets needed to be a shadow.

2. There are also willing HEART trainees in early childhood education who will shadow your child for work experience for a stipend.

3. The most popular option is that of sharing a shadow. Some parents exercise this option with another child in their child's class and this would cut your shadow cost in half.

I fully endorse having a shadow, as we have seen great returns with Amari. A shadow could be the difference in having your child keep up with lesson plans. The reality is that Jamaica has a very limited number of options allowing your child a very small classroom that would possibly negate the need for a shadow. It can therefore be a fruitful option to have your child supported by a shadow in a regular or semi-special needs classroom. Please feel free to email me your thoughts and personal experiences on this issue or any other relating to children with special needs.

Sara, mom to four-year-old Amari, is an advocate for children with developmental delays. Amari was born three months early at one pound, and was hospitalised for three and a half months after birth. Email her at





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