Community-Based Instruction — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

Community-Based Instruction

by Deborah


One of my pet peeves with our special education system is the concept of community-based instruction (CBI). Such community trips are a regular part – actually a weekly part – of the curriculum for my children with special needs. And, I believe that is true for almost all school districts serving children with special needs.

Today Ashley is going to the Dollar Tree and to McDonalds for lunch. Trust me, Ashley already knows how to shop. She doesn’t need any further instruction in that skill! She also doesn’t eat anything McDonalds has to offer. We’re still working on her feeding program, and unfortunately, that program doesn’t include double cheeseburgers and fries. So what is Ashley going to get out of this particular CBI trip?

Yes, there will be opportunities for practicing language skills – and maybe even some orientation and mobility skills. There certainly won’t be many models for appropriate meal manners. Nothing against McDonalds, but it’s just not a place where most of us learn to use the correct utensil, where to put our napkin when the meal is finished, and how not to gulp our food.

At Dollar Tree, she is not going to learn how to find ingredients for a meal she can prepare, nor will she be likely to find any necessary clothing items she may need. She and her classmates will be shopping for classroom decorations. I agree that might be a fun way to spend a couple of hours of her school day, but I believe every hour counts when it comes to actual academic skills for Ashley and her classmates.

One of the largest gaps between education of children with significant disabilities and their regular education peers centers around this issue of community-based instruction, in my opinion.

Regular education students may take one field trip a year. Those regular education field trips strongly support the academic curriculum. The students prepare throughout the school year for the trip and normally have worksheets or testing which follow the field trip.

In special education, particularly those with significant disabilities – those who need the most time on academic pursuits just by virtue of the fact that it usually takes them a little longer to absorb the material – spend hours outside the classroom every week or every other week on trips that do not support their curriculum (or supports it just incidentally).

Some of my friends with children receiving special education services call this CBI concept the Mall Curriculum or the Bowling Curriculum. Personally, I am tired of it and want my children to have an EDUCATIONAL curriculum.

Deborah can be found writing here at 5MFSN every Sunday and Wednesday, and can also be found at Pipecleaner Dreams.

Email Author    |    Website About Deborah

In addition to her job as a computer engineer and her single parent responsibilities, Deborah is president of a state-wide family support group for families whose lives are touched by deafblindness, and is a tireless advocate for all people with disabilities. She writes at Pipe Cleaner Dreams and her writing has also been featured in local magazines and newspapers. Ashley’s story has also been chronicled in a book by Jonathan Mooney titled Short Bus Stories.

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1 Sheri Rouse January 14, 2009 at 4:57 pm

I personally think the CBI program is amazing and is super beneficial for my child. If nothing else it helps the community at large be more comfortable with having Special Needs kids out and about and having clerks and cashier more familiar with needs of those with special needs.

It helps my child not be so dependent on me in those situations and more comfortable about asking for help in an appropriate manner from those clerks and staff.

While educational opportunities are necessary, these are the things that will make more of an impact on my son’s life in the long run.

2 Christine January 14, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Well Regan has no CBI program because she is the only special needs child at her school. If I told her other schools were doing this I would never hear the end of it. Thanks for letting me know about the program….I would not be thrilled about trips to the dollar tree or McD’s either. I don’t encourage fast food at my house.

3 Susan (5 Minutes for Mom) January 14, 2009 at 9:25 pm

I can see how that would be very frustrating Deborah. Thank you for sharing your experience!

4 Katie January 14, 2009 at 9:42 pm

I think that both Sheri and Deborah have good points. :) It’s all in how the teachers/supervisors/aids handle the trip. I know money is a difficult concept for some kids, because it is abstract; four quarters is more money than five dimes because the quarters represent a larger sum. A field trip to a store would provide a real life opportunity to practice money-related math. However, the supervisors on the trip would have to plan ahead and actually supervise to make that happen. That planning seems to be sadly lacking based on Deborah’s description.

5 Terri Grabb January 14, 2009 at 10:37 pm

I agree with Sheri and Deborah. Yet, feel that they could be doing the money concept in a more time efficient manner. Doing a mini – store in the classroom and setting up that Dollar store atmosphere so that they take less time out of their day. It is something we worked on so we did not waste time or the schools finances.

I do have to say that sometimes we were forced due to IEP’s that stated that they had to be taken out to have that interaction. So you may want to see if its in the IEP program that you have set up.

We have seen many parents set it up so that their child was put into the program CBI and then other parents that opted out and requested more in classroom work. So you may want to see if you can opt out. In many schools that is an option they don’t advertise it as it causes more work on the staff.

6 Amazing_Grace January 15, 2009 at 11:48 am

Unfortunately most parents do not take their special needs children anywhere and these field trips are necessary. I would count myself lucky if your school system had CBI.

7 Deborah January 15, 2009 at 12:32 pm

I would like having the choice to opt out. I understand that some parents do not take their children into the community, especially if the children have significant disabilities or sensory issues that may cause behavior concerns. But I am not one of those parents.

My daughter who is deafblind, has three brain tumors currently, mobility issues, eating issues, and sensory processing issues along with being a sign language user, has always accompanied me and the rest of my family wherever we go.

My goal for her is to allow her to experience as many things as she can – in whatever way works for her. I couldn’t do that if I kept her home.

Because of the way I decided to parent her, she is just as comfortable in the community as she is anywhere else. She has learned to navigate, to ask for assistance when needed, to have fun, to be bold and not shy, and most importantly, to advocate for herself.

My experience with CBIs, at least for her, is that what I want and expect of her is NOT what the school district wants and expects.

Perhaps this could be addressed in an IEP or with an opt out provision, and I will be asking about that at my next IEP meeting.

Thank you all for your comments. One of the reasons I love getting the comments is that you help me see things in different ways. I like my opinions and observations to be challenged because through that challenge I can grow into a better parent for my children!

8 gail January 15, 2009 at 2:20 pm

My experience with CBIs, at least for her, is that what I want and expect of her is NOT what the school district wants and expects.

this is true of alot of areas i find!

we don’t have cbi’s here in idaho that i know of. but we do have afterschool therapy and they do alot of cbi’s so maybe that is why. what state are you in and where is it common? we will probably be moving after hubby graduates and i’m interested in what other states do and have.

9 Deborah January 15, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Gail, I am in Virginia, and from my conversations with parents from across our state, the CBI experience seems pretty common. There will always be schools and school districts that do a better job than others. And, sometimes I have been able to influence specific teachers to take trips that are more educational in nature. Once, I even bought memberships to our local science museum for the entire class.

So for me, its been both good and bad – unfortunately, more bad than good.

10 G. Chapman February 28, 2009 at 12:43 pm

I am glad to hear a parent’s insight on this subject. For some time I’ve been opposed to non therapeutic activities such as community outings that have no relationship to an IEP or ISP (I formerly worked in a school as a behavior support specialist, then an SBH teacher, and later in a sheltered workshop as a program manager, then as a staff supervisor; I now work in an adult day hab setting as a consultant). When I was a supervisor, we had enrichment specialists who planned “enrichment” activities and I created a furor when I wanted to “expand” enrichment to include learning experiences and had to re-name my program because the enrichment specialist complained to the union and the facility manager that I was stepping on her toes. Later, I asked a staff person with diabetes and many years of experience in direct care to teach a class on “healthy habits” to our adults with diabetes and again the enrichment specialist was offended because I didn’t ask her since she was the one with the degree. The other enrichment specialist did outings several times a week and when I started compiling a book of activities for our produciton employees to do after we lost our contract with an auto company, one of the behavior support specialists suggested I include activities related to outings that provided educational experiences along with the frequent “trips.” So, I included “Restaurant Etiquette” in the book that in addition to teaching manners, also taught how to address wait staff, order food, and give tips. I am now designing a community-based program that hopefully will address some of the concerns Deborah has.

11 dtha July 29, 2009 at 12:18 am

CBI is incredibly helpful to my students, volunteer work opportunities are also invaluable.

12 Matthew September 13, 2009 at 12:01 am

I am a special education teacher of a CBI program. I try my best to make lessons and community outings relevent and meaningful. I go by standards that are written by the state of CA. We did a science unit on plants and animals which led to a trip to the L.A. Zoo. We also walked to Petco and bought a class fish. The students had to inqire about the needed care and look for items. They also were in charge of caring for the fish on a daily basis. They named him Timothy and he survived for about 5 months. We go shopping to the market, Target, or 99 cent store for ingredients that are needed for a lunch the student choose. They pick the menu which must be approved by a nutritionist, they list the and catorgorize the ingredients on a work sheet and we go over instructions. It’s not always easy, but I try to expand on concepts and challange students as much as possible.

13 fabjenjen November 9, 2009 at 3:37 pm

I have a son who has autism and is currently in kindergarten in Texas… His annual ARD meeting is comming up and I fear that the school will reccomend CBI as they have for most all the students who need more support in his classroom. I don’t know that it is the best idea. I feel like while some skills may be learned through this way of teaching, but not nearly what he needs. I have much research to do on the program. I need to program to have standards as regular students do in order for me to feel safe in making this life choice for him. Like Deborah, he goes everywhere with the family. Sometimes we do have problems, but each time gets better and better. Will he graduate with a diploma? It is so important to me that I nor the school limit his possibilities. Sure, he does need extra support in many areas, but does that mean I should expect less of him and his educational goals? I do not want to limit him in any way. I do not want the school to take a route because it is cheaper or easier for them either. I feel for you Deborah, and I agree that you should have an opt out option if you feel the day to be a waste of time for your child. Hopefully you can get it worked out in the ARD meeting. Good luck to all.

14 Babii March 4, 2010 at 7:04 am

y dont u research first. Im sure school across the nation create CBI classes just to make parents feel inadequate for their child. What is the basis for CBI and where does it come from? Educational specialist who’ve gone to college for 8+ years and know nothing? Just some thoughts

15 Mary April 5, 2010 at 12:01 pm

CBI is in my opinion a great way to expose students with disabilities to the community. Also, some parent aren’t able to carry their kid out because of inappropriate behavior. If special educators are able to get students in the community and teach the appropriate behavior so that parent can be able to carry them out themselves, I think it is great. Some students will be with their parents for their entire lives so some of the things that are being taught that they will never learn or grasp are not important. what is important is that the students are happy.

16 lmv May 4, 2010 at 5:08 pm

CBI is an evidence-based practice and when implemented correctly has shown be effective for students with moderate to severe disabilities. Deborah should do her research and try to make her child’s experience better by requiring the teachers to provide appropriate and effective CBI.

17 andi1 May 17, 2010 at 9:50 am

Community-based Instruction (CBI) has a long and well documented history. THe purpose of CBI is to teach students with significant disabilities (low-incidence) how to function in the society in which they live and it should be supported in this classroom as well as the home. The primary reason for CBI is that this population does not generalize well (meaning just because they can do it in the classroom or at home does not mean they can do it anywhere else – they must be taught in all environments in which they’ll need that skill). Ideally CBI should be part of a lesson plan and include trips to grocery store (to learn how to purchase food for lunch which they make at school, or breakfast food, etc), trips to Walmart/Target (to teach them how to locate their clothing size, how to find the bathroom and use all different types of facilities, how to ask for help from someone not familiar with special needs people, what to do if they become separated from their group/family, etc), occasional trips to inexpensive restaurants (to not only get lunch but learn how to order from people not use to people with special needs, how to locate bathroom and use facilities which are surprisingly different if you look), trips to places where they can do recreational stuff (parks, museums, bowling, etc) and trips on mass transit if that’s an option as well as many other things. The whole point is not getting lunch but the skills necessary to do so. Kids in this area need lots of practice in the environment in which they’ll be using the skill and they don’t generalize from one environment to another. Don’t dismiss the teachable moments in these trips .. they’re invaluable when you stop and think about it.

18 andi1 May 17, 2010 at 9:53 am

By the way, if you’d like to do a little research on CBI try looking up journal articles by Dr. Paul Alberto. He’s been doing this for over 30 years and is basically the ‘father’ of this teaching methodology.

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