There are certain skills you just cannot learn without actually performing them – for instance, riding a public bus from one location to another at a certain time. You might watch people riding buses on television to understand some of the basics, especially how to pay the driver. You might accompany someone on a bus trip to learn how to read a schedule. You might look at various bus routes to decide which one gets you where you need to go. Still, all that effort only gives you a partial experience. That’s when you need to take a bus from one location to another at a certain time – with an experienced rider guiding and supporting you – so you can apply what you learned by watching television and traveling with a companion. That’s when you experience and learn from the real-world skill of riding public transportation with other people.
Community-Based Instruction (CBI) gives adolescents practice with key life skills like communication, socialization, self-determination, home living and self-care, leisure, employment and participation in the community – all skills that, like driving, can ultimately only be learned by doing.
For adolescents with disabilities, CBI is a related to the Transition Activities portion of the IEP. Transition is an integral part of a child’s Free and Appropriate Public Education. Under IDEA 2004, Transition Services include areas such as,
- Community living skills — money management, community access
- Personal-social skills — getting along with others
- Vocational skills — career awareness, job search
- Self-determination skills — self-advocacy, goal setting
When CBI is taught in school, it very closely follows the pattern of riding public transportation. There is classroom instruction about the skills being taught. A person experienced in the skills being taught – most often a teacher or counselor – takes adolescents into the community to practice these skills in the settings where they will use the skills for the rest of their lives – the store, the restaurant, the bus, the bank, the YMCA. Adolescents continue to practice these skills under supervision until they show that they have mastered them and can apply them in many different kinds of settings – the point where adolescents essentially get their “license” for that skill.
The key to effective CBI is providing adolescents with hands-on, real-world experiences. And these experiences are just as important as the academic and prevocational instruction that adolescents receive. A young person may be accepted to college or gain a job, but that will not come to much unless he knows how to commute to school or work, how to communicate with people in that setting, how to manage his money, and take care of himself. Likewise, a person who is successful in school or work might not reach her potential if she does not have interesting leisure activities and a group of good friends.
Communication and social skills form the foundation of CBI because they are, in fact, the foundation of almost all community activities. These skills must be developed before adolescents complete their education because:
During adolescence, the social gap between individuals with disabilities and typically developing peers often widens.
A lack of necessary social skills, including failure to understand social rules, can impact social interactions and limit a person’s success as part of independent living and employment.
Development of strategies specifically designed to increase community participation is essential to ensuring equal opportunities for people with disabilities.
Unless communication and social skills are taught, full community integration and social fulfillment will remain a challenge.
Much of the work of teaching adolescents life skills starts in the home, but schools can also contribute mightily in this area. The very best way to implement CBI is, as always, a team approach where the work at home supports the work at school, which supports the work in the community, which supports the work at home. It does indeed take a community to provide adolescents with the very best CBI.