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Community-Based Instruction for Students with Severe Disabilities

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

Do your students with severe disabilities have goals related to independent living and life skills? If so, you might want to consider community-based instruction as a teaching method. This lesson has some ideas to get you started.

Life Skills

For students with severe disabilities, the curriculum often includes life skills, or those needed to participate and succeed in the practical areas of everyday living. For younger students, they may include self-help skills like clothing management and feeding.

For older students, life skills often include those related to independent living, such as shopping, food preparation, laundry, and basic job skills. For some of these students, community-based instruction, or authentic practice outside of the school setting, makes for an effective teaching tool.

Let's look at the steps involved in providing meaningful community-based instruction for your older students with severe disabilities.

Planning Community-Based Instruction

Community-based instruction can take many forms, depending on a student's goals. Outings and practice sessions might include:

  • A trip to the grocery store to learn how to shop with a list
  • Lunch at a restaurant to practice manners in public
  • A ride on a city bus to see how public transportation works

Destinations will vary based on the ages and needs of students. The following steps provide a basic template for planning community-based instruction experiences for your students, beginning with how to choose an outing.

Choose an Outing

Consider an outing that will address the goals and needs of multiple students. For example, Ms. Johansson has several students working on skills related to food shopping, so she decides to plan a trip to the local grocery store.

Pre-Teach Skills

Before taking a community outing, teach students the situational skills they'll need and spend time practicing them in the classroom. For instance, the students in Ms. Johansson's class read a book and watched a short video about grocery shopping. They made lists and practiced matching the items on their lists with real objects. They also practiced pushing a cart through the hallway, standing in line, putting their items on a counter, and giving fake money to a teacher's aide playing cashier.

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