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IDEA Part C Issue Brief: Natural Environments

The Current IDEA Part C Final Regulations

Natural environments (§303.26) are is defined as "settings that are natural or typical for a same-aged infant or toddler without a disability, may include the home or community settings, and must be consistent with the provisions of §303.126" (Early intervention services in natural environments). The phrases "or community settings" and "same-aged" have been added and "normal" was replaced with "typical."

§303.126 Early intervention services in natural environments.
"Each system must include policies and procedures to ensure," consistent with other provisions in the Part, "that early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities are provided—

(a) To the maximum extent appropriate, in natural environments; and

(b) In settings other than the natural environment that are most appropriate, as determined by the parent and the IFSP team, only when early intervention services cannot be achieved satisfactorily in a natural environment."

There were no substantive changes in this definition in the 2011 IDEA Part C final regulations. 

Implications for ASHA Members

  • The concept of natural environments means more than just the location of service. It encompasses family-centered care, which involves families and service providers working together. "Natural environments" and "family-centered" practices involve helping families learn how to encourage their children’s participation in everyday situations and are the focus of members’ intervention in Part C. Intervention may therefore involve various levels of intensity and delivery modes. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and audiologists need to be mindful that working in natural environments does not simply involve moving clinical services to the home setting. Likewise, should the individualized family service plan (IFSP) team decide that the child’s and family’s needs would be best met in a community setting, service providers still need to use a family-centered approach. A family’s typical activities, communication partners (e.g., grandparents, siblings, peers), events, and values must be considered in the development of the IFSP and the desired outcomes.
  • In the event the team decides the natural environment is not the optimal setting for a child, justification must be included in the documentation of services.

What ASHA Members Can Do

  • SLPs and audiologists can be instrumental in helping the IFSP team recognize that family-centered care is integral to the provision of services in natural environments.
  • Family-centered service delivery in everyday situations also means that members can take the lead to discuss and identify the needs for the child, their family, and the IFSP outcomes by encouraging informed decision-making and consensus.
  • SLPs and audiologists need to participate in appropriate and ongoing education, mentoring, and experience in order to deliver family-centered, early intervention services in natural environments.

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