Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Welcome!  I hope this website provides you with a stepping stone to find the information and support you need.  There is a wealth of information out there, so my attempt here is to narrow it down for families entering the world of special needs for the first time with young children.  My father worked with the Special Olympics and taught the severely disabled for over 30 years and I spent much of my childhood volunteering along side him, but nothing prepared me for my own child having special needs.  It is a new frontier with a steep learning curve and varies drastically from child to child and family to family.  I wish you well on your journey and please follow me on Facebook to alert me and other readers of resources and activities in the Sacramento area.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Natural Environments

“To the maximum extent appropriate, early intervention services are to be provided in natural environments, including the home and community settings in which children without disabilities participate.” IDEA Part C 632(4)(6)

"Natural environments" are locations, learning environments and learning opportunities.

Natural environments may include the home, church, parks, restaurants, or anywhere you spend time as a family.

Learning environments include car rides, swings, sand play, carnivals, holiday dinners, neighborhood walks, or any activity you and your family and child participate in.

Learning opportunities include listening to music, splashing water, petting animals, digging in sand, dancing with Mom, singing songs, carrying the mail, washing the dog, or any interaction between you, your child, or others that facilitates your child learning about his/her world and learning the skills to function in it.

"Early intervention" is a package of supports and services to you, your family and your child.  It is not a place where you bring your child to have things done to them in an attempt to "fix" what may be wrong.  Although there may be cases where services are provided in a medical or clinic setting for specific needs, early intervention should take place in a natural setting "to the maximum extent appropriate."  Rather than remove you and your child from your natural environment, early intervention should work with you and your family to make your environments responsive to your family and child's needs.  The most successful services and supports fir your family instead of your family trying to fit into a therapy or service delivery model.  Services in natural environments do not only refer to the location of services.  It also refers to how services are provided.  The goal is to make your natural environments more effective learning environments by building on what you already do in your daily activities and routines, using familiar materials and involving people familiar to you and your child.

Providing services and support in natural environments is not just the law, more importantly it provides support to you and your family so that you can help your child develop to their fullest potential.  You and your family are an integral part of the IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan) team, a team that works together to develop outcomes for your family and child.  The team must identify what early intervention services are needed to support you and your child in meeting the outcomes on the IFSP.  Early intervention services are provided in the natural environments that best helps your family and child meet these outcomes.

Why Natural Environments?
Natural environments do not resemble, nor is it based on the traditional therapy or medical model where the child is brought to someone's office for help.  Why?  It is based on research and what we know of how children develop:

1. Generalization
Commonly, children who have a delay or disability have difficulty generalizing skills from one environment to another.  This means that a child who learns to crawl on a mat during therapy may not also crawl across the yard of his home, without specific instruction or encouragement to do so.  Providing intervention in your child's natural environment allows your child to respond to the natural cues of his environment and learn to use the skill in other similar, but not identical situations.  As your activities and routines change, it helps to be flexible to that change which further encourages your child to generalize his or her learning.

2. Brain Development and Learning
Young children's brains are growing and acquiring new neural pathways at a phenomenal rate.  Simple caregiving activities ilk rocking, stroking a baby, talking, feeding, etc. stimulate growth.  These nurturing activities must be provided in large quantities, with great frequency, and on an ongoing basis for a child to benefit from the stimulation.  This information tells us that young children with disabilities also benefit most from individualized learning opportunities throughout the day, not just during a weekly or biweekly intervention session.  The most successful early intervention will coach you in using intervention strategies that blend into your existing activities and routines with your child.

3. More is Not Always Better
Early experience has been shown to influence children with and without disabilities.  It may seem logical then that if it is better to provide intervention as early as possible to a child with a delay or disability, then it must be better to provide as much intervention as possible.  There is no data to support that more intervention always means better results.  Bruder and Staff (1998) compared two groups of toddlers with moderate to severe disabilities for one year.  Children receiving intensive therapy and intervention in a segregated classroom made no more developmental progress than the children who received less intervention and attended an inclusive classroom.  An analysis of two alternative program models for children with speech delays showed a significant increase in skill acquisition by children who were in the home parent training group vs children who received intensive clinic-based intervention (Eiserman, McCoun and Escobar, 1990).

4. Segregation Leads to Segregation
Special education practices of the last 25 years have taught us many lessons.  Segregation of children with special needs often leads to further isolation.  It limits the opportunities for social interaction for you, your family, and child.  Children with special needs must have the experience of living, playing, communicating and working in the "real world" so they can use these skills to lead independent adult lives.  Children who attend segregated special education services are more likely to live and work in segregated settings as adults.  Early intervention services in natural environments is the most important step in helping you realize the goal of helping your child to become a productive adult who is fully included in the community.

5. Family Support
Early intervention focuses on how to support families in all aspects of their life as a family of a child with special needs.  Family support becomes a lifelong service need.  Working towards that outcome requires that therapists become coaches to more effectively help you learn how to help your family and child.  As you learn to utilize supports in your natural environments, you will feel successful for having enriched your family's life as well as your child's.