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What is an Autism Aide, or Shadow?

Posted by on in Autism
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When a child with autism or any other special needs has acquired, to some degree, a certain set of skills in the areas of socialization and play, language, attending, group academic skills and maintains appropriate behaviors, this is a good time to start thinking about shadowing.

What is Shadowing?

austism shadow or aideSo what does shadowing mean? Shadowing is defined as the act of sending a student with a disability into a general education program accompanied by an aide. In other words, a therapist/aide who is trained in the basic principles of applied behavior analysis (What is ABA?) (reinforcement, prompting, prompt-fading and shaping), also known as a "shadow," will accompany the student to the inclusive setting and be a support to the student in that environment. The shadow will assist the student with the skills that he or she already has and help them gain new ones as well.

It is very important that the aide or shadow with the student has the appropriate skills necessary to be a suitable help for the child. The shadow, or autism aide, must be a person who is committed to helping the student be as independent as possible in the typical setting, because one of the ultimate goals, if not the highest goal of the shadow, is to eventually fade out of the inclusive environment and allow the child to function on their own in the classroom and the school.

Working on Independance

In order to start working on the child's independence in the classroom, the shadow must be able to support the student by doing a series of things that will lead the student to become independent. For example, the shadow must help the student learn the classroom routines and rules; where to put the backpack, where to sit, where to go and not to go, learn the class schedule, etc. Also, the shadow will have to determine how much level of support the child really needs in different activities. For instance, there might be activities in which the child does not need help at all and will function just fine like a typical child would. In this case, the shadow would just step back and observe, collect data and assess the situation. In other situations, the student might need more help in a certain activity and the shadow will have to provide the correct level of support during that time. They may have to do some physical prompting at first, but eventually the shadow will decrease that prompt into a least intrusive prompt, like a gestural prompt, and slowly fade the prompts out until no prompting is needed.

Other things that a shadow or a trained aide in ABA will do to eventually help the student be independent is implement different interventions when needed (social interventions, behavior interventions), direct all the communication attempts from other students to the target child, direct the student to the teacher for any wants and needs, try to never repeat the teachers instructions, learn the teachers style of teaching, collect data and fade back whenever possible.

The shadow is not the teacher though, and is not the only one responsible for helping the student make progress. Shadowing is not a one person responsibility, but a team effort between the teacher, shadow, BCBA and parents. It is definitely a job that takes much skill in ABA, patience and a desire to see the student grow into a more independent person.


Including Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders Into Less Restrictive Educational Settings, edited by Joanne Gerenser, Ph.D., CCC-SLP and Mary E. McDonald, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Eden II/Genesis Programs

©Copyright 2012 by The Shape of Behavior | All Rights Reserved
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  • Guest
    Audrey Monday, 22 October 2012

    Carlos, thank you for a great post on shadowing! I enjoyed it! :)

  • Guest
    williams Don E. Sunday, 28 October 2012

    Carlos, I enjoyed your blog. Nice job/

  • Guest
    helena Thursday, 25 September 2014

    Hi carlos, i liked reading your post, it was very informative and concise! I am currently working with children diagnosed with autism implementing aba techniques under supervision from a bcba. I am considering getting another job as a shadow but was wondering if i needed a specific certification. I have extensive knowledge in aba and am currently working on a masters in order to get certified. Any info helps! Than youuu in advance

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Guest Tuesday, 15 October 2019