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IDEA Part C: Natural Environments

What IDEA Says

Natural environments (§303.26) are 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" replaced with "typical", what was used in previous regulations.

§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 [individualized family services plan] team, only when early intervention services cannot be achieved satisfactorily in a natural environment."

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. Audiologists and speech-language pathologists (SLPs) need to be mindful that working in natural environments does not simply involve moving clinical services to the home setting. Likewise, should the 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

  • Audiologists and SLPs 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.
  • Audiologists and SLPs need to participate in appropriate and ongoing education, mentoring, and experience to deliver family-centered, early intervention services in natural environments.

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