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Effective Community Based Instruction for Learners with Autism

Embarking on Community-Based Instruction (CBI) with learners on the autism spectrum is something that demands careful planning and thoughtful execution. As a BCBA with a passion for functional learning opportunities, I have witnessed firsthand the positive impact of well-designed CBI programs. In this blog post, we’ll explore key components of successful community based instruction.

Setting Individual & Realistic Goals for Community Based Instruction

When planning outings, it is vital to craft individual and realistic goals for each learner. That way, your goals can drive your community based instruction outings in terms of choosing locations, and planning what skills you plan to target with each learner. As there are so many variables you can encounter during CBI trips (e.g., traffic, long lines at stores), the more things you can plan for and prepare ahead of time, the better! Click to browse community based instruction skill assessment and IEP goal bank materials to help you plan effective community based outings, goals, and IEPs!

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When crafting IEP goals for community based instruction, take into account the unique strengths and challenges of each learner. Set objectives that are not only developmentally appropriate but also align with the individualized needs of the student. For example, one learner might excel in making a purchase in a store, but have difficulty waiting on line until it is his turn to pay, whereas another learner may have mastered appropriate waiting, but has difficulty in making purchases. This tailored approach ensures that the CBI experience is purposeful and relevant.

Remember to keep your goals SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). An effective goal to target purchasing skills in community settings might read, “When purchasing at a grocery or convenience store, and upon being verbally told the total by the cashier, student will retrieve wallet, open wallet, take out bill (e.g., $20), hand to cashier, wait for change, and put away change in wallet. They will successfully complete this skill on 9 out of 10 consecutive data opportunities.”

The Power of Preparation

Thoughtful staffing is the backbone of successful CBI. Ensure that your team is not only well-trained in working with learners on the spectrum but also has a deep understanding of each student’s unique needs. While we cannot always choose our staff, we can choose how we allocate staff-to-student ratios to provide personalized support. Download this FREE staff training resource for tips for successful community based instruction outings!

Beyond staffing, the materials and reinforcers you bring can make or break a CBI experience. It can never hurt to throw some extra snacks or fidgets in your bag in the case of unexpected down times! Social stories and visual schedules can also help to create a sense of predictability and security to show our learners what to expect in unknown environments. Click here for a free staff training cheat sheet for additional successful community based instruction tips!

The Importance of Data Tracking

Data collection is the heartbeat of effective ABA practices, and CBI is no exception. Rigorous tracking of progress against established goals provides invaluable insights into the effectiveness of the program. I find that printable data sheets are ideal for community outings for their ease of transport and safety (I would rather lose a paper data sheet than a tablet!). Click here to browse FREE community based instruction data tracking sheets.

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However I do use digital data collection tools to analyze this data. Without looking at trends over time, it would be difficulty to fade prompts or move to new learning targets (when learners are excelling in their CBI goals) or brainstorm new strategies or interventions (when learners are not successful over time in their CBI goals).


Effective Community based instruction can be an enjoyable experience for students when done successfully. It is a delicate dance of personalized goals, strategic planning and preparation, and meticulous data tracking. Hopefully these tips can help transform your future CBI outings.


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