Sunday, July 24, 2016

CBI Location Selection

I recently posted a photo to my teaching instagram (@lovespedteaching...find me!) joking that I was scoping out CBI (community-based instruction) locations, when in reality I was laid back at the beach ;-)  I really believe that I could make a pretty good case for beach life skills training, but that's a different post entirely. Today, let's discuss how CBI trips should be selected! A few years ago, I became the CBI coordinator for my district. Basically, this means that I am in charge of maintaining the CBI manual, coordinating bus pickup with the transportation secretary, and helping provide my fellow self-contained teachers with resources for use on trips. When I started looking into the habits of my district as well as those in neighboring counties, I realized that all too often CBI trips are treated as field trips, when they are very different by definition. Very little planning was going into the selection of locations and very little intentional teaching was happening while on the trips themselves. The trips were full of teachable moments and I applaud the educators for taking advantage of those, but I believed we could do a little more to take full advantage of the opportunities provided! So, how do I select CBI trips for my group?

Step 1: Look at the goals

Sometimes, especially in the upper grades, we plan for community experiences by setting community-based goals. Other times, it is beneficial to think outside the box! Your student may now be able to differentiate between upper and lower case letters using the file folder game that you created and worksheets you provide, but will he be able to pick them out on the McDonald’s sign? Perhaps she can add 1+2=3 on paper, but what if she wants a cookie and her two friends want a cookie; will she know how many cookies to purchase? Also, it is possible to monitor related service goals in the community setting as well. Perhaps he can transfer from his wheelchair to the chair in your classroom, but what about transferring to a swing at the park? As with everything we do, start with the goals!

Step 2: List locations

Walmart...again?! Think beyond the basics and keep the following in mind. Look at locations that...
  • Are the same or similar to the sites currently used by the student or will most likely be used by him/her in the future.
  • Will help you provide systematic instruction that is consistent with family expectations and desires. What do parents want them to be independent doing? Are there any restrictions that parents set on community locations?
  • Facilitate comprehensive, longitudinal instruction and consistent methodologies.We aren't all over the place in the classroom and should also not be all over the place in the community.
  • Focus on future living arrangements and desires upon exit from the school system. Postsecondary success is on the forefront of a high school teacher's mind, but this is a good tip for younger grades as well. Keep the end in mind as you help students take small steps toward the eventual goal.
I keep a working list of accessible stores, restaurants, and activities within our allowed driving distance along with estimated money needed for each location. This helps make planning time more productive.

Step 3: Lock in your choice

Don't stress over it: if you have selected a place that is accessible and will help you work on at least one goal per student, go with it! I have definitely taken my students places and come back to scratch it off the list, but then there have been some locations that I am skeptical about that proved to be wonderful! Give yourself the freedom to try and give yourself grace if you select a location that proves to be a "fail". We've all done it...we'll all do it again!

This is how I decide where to take my students on our biweekly CBI outings. I'll be updating the CBI manual soon, so I look forward to your comments about how you select locations for community experiences :-) 

Saturday, March 26, 2016


Warning: this post is a little raw, emotionally speaking. Some wounds have the potential to be opened as I write. Expressing emotion is VERY much out of my character, but I do feel that the best teachers get a little emotionally involved. Forgive me if this is scattered and not as positive as I typically am. This one's real life, folks.

I had a student that I believed I would adopt. I believed my husband and I could bring him into our home and into our lives and give him exactly what he, and perhaps I, needed: a family. I learned a lot while working with this sweet buddy, both in and outside of the classroom. He could light up a room with his smile, he was ALWAYS up for a celebration, he loved every part of Christmas and began planning his birthday party 10 months in advance. He sought proprioceptive input in the most endearing of ways. He connected with those he felt safe with and communicated with them in the best ways he could. He loved Google Images and could surprise you with his vocabulary regarding preferred items and locations, despite being considered functionally nonverbal. One day, while on a school break, I received word that this young man was being moved and it is very likely that I'll not see him again. It's absolutely heartbreaking, but I must live with the understanding that if he is supposed to be in our family, he will be. If he needs us as I believed he did, we will be given the opportunity to welcome him into our home. I learned so much from this sweet guy while he was in our classroom family and when I worked with him outside of the classroom, so I was hoping to use this platform to memorialize him in my life and share some of what he taught/reminded me.

Through my little buddy, I was reminded that autism is greater, stronger, more dominant than any relationship/bond that one might have. There is nothing "typical" or "textbook" about it. Each person, each situation, each experience has the potential to be very different. It is both beautiful and ugly, both relaxed and intense, both scattered and focused, both joy and pain. It is not simply a lack of social skills or, as I have heard it put, "home training". I had the pleasure of meeting with a couple this week that is very involved in the life and education of their son with autism. In our conversation, we noted that autism is so much more than a puzzle piece, more than a shirt, more than an awareness month. It's hard, it's needy, and it's wonderful. The life of the parent of a child with autism is one of advocate, of support, of strength, of proactivity, of problem-solving, of persistence, of determination. It's lonely and it's full. Were we ready for this life? Honestly, I'm not sure. Is anyone?

He taught me that a connection does not have to be spoken, that it can be shown in many ways, such as simply by needing that person to be near. He taught me that sometimes you hurt the people that you feel the most comfortable with because life is hard and communication breakdowns are harder. He showed me that life is full of beauty and reasons to smile, even in the 'everyday'. Through him, I was reminded that every day can be celebrated, exclaiming "Hooray!  Hooray!", even on a random Tuesday. I learned the effects of sensory therapy and was able to see it work before my eyes. Above all, I learned that kids are worth fighting for...and that not everyone is willing to fight.

This precious guy has changed me and my approach to teaching. I vow to be better, to push harder, to advocate stronger, to do all that I can to speak for those who cannot. I'm sorry, little buddy. I'm sorry I couldn't do that for you. <3