The definition of "para" means "beside". And I can't think of a better way to describe these folks other than "educator beside" Tommy.
Paras help him "talk". Tommy doesn't talk. He uses sign language.....technology.... gestures...and a few grunts to get his requests made and get his needs met. So when he comes home at the end of the day, I have no way to ask him the usual "how was your day?", "what did you practice in music?", "who did you play with at recess?". The Paras that work with Tommy write to me each day in a data binder that we have kept for 8 years.
Every evening I can open the data binder and see how Tommy's day was and I know what questions to ask him so that he can feel successful in a yes/no answer, "music was tough today?, you didn't want to play on your recorder?". His Paras help him with his ipad software so he can make social comments to classmates, "I like your shirt" the Para helps Tommy find the right buttons to push on his ipad so he can make a comment to a friend.
Paras keep him clean. Yep. He is that 11 year old, 85 pound boy, that didn't learn to toilet train and his post surgery issues 'down under' may have prevented him from learning. These Paras get stuck with all of Tommy's messy, messy issues. Wet clothes get sent home in backpacks. Packages of diapers and wipes still get sent to school and these Paras organize all the Tommy clean up tasks.
Paras keep him safe. He wears a GPS most days that I sew into a tank top under his shirt. Even the Paras can keep his GPS app on their phones in case the Blonde Tornado disappears and it's all hands on deck to find him. Paras know that Tommy is a slippery wanderer and that most of them have an eye on Tommy even if he isn't their student. Tommy has a moderate immune deficiency because for some reason his bone marrow doesn't produce the right kind of Bcells. Paras will let me know if Tommy isn't feeling well. Obviously we don't send Tommy to school sick, but sometimes a common cold can become something serious for Tommy within hours. They notice even small changes in Tommy's energy and mood and will let me know.
Paras love on Tommy. He has some school and social anxieties for a variety of good reasons. They patiently wait him out if he doesn't want to go to the next class or if he doesn't want to even walk into the music room. They whisper encouraging words into his ear. They ask him what he would like to do next IF he gets through a task he doesn't want to finish. They zip his coat and tie his shoes and make sure he doesn't choke while eating his lunch. They love Tommy so much!
We THANK all of Tommy's paras for making his education and life brighter. His future is better because of YOU!!