Natural Supports

In addition to applying for government funded services, including applying for Medicaid Waivers, it is also important to explore what is available in  your community that may provide help and supports – what are often called “natural supports.”

So what are natural supports? Natural supports are the relationships that occur in everyday life. Natural supports usually involve family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors and acquaintances. Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities often need help in developing these connections, but once they do these “natural systems of support” become an important part of their life in the community.

For example, being involved in a YMCA swimming program, community center arts class, or worship services may lead to friendships and connections that last far beyond the actual event. Overtime, these connections can help an individual build a strong community network and support system.

Some ways to build natural supports include:

  • Participate in community activities and projects – Help out on a “Clean City Day” collecting recyclables. Join in “A Day of Caring” where groups help out in projects throughout the town or city.
  • Join groups and clubs – Check out groups for people with disabilities such as Special Olympics and Best Buddies, as well as groups and clubs open to people of all abilities in your community. If you are in school, get involved in extracurricular clubs and youth groups like boy scouts or girl scouts, sign up for summer camps.
  • Socialize with family and neighbors.
  • Explore work opportunities – Think about what you like to do. Visit work sites where people do things that interest you. Find out if you can work as an intern or volunteer to see if you like that kind of work.
  • Attend church and faith based activities outside of traditional worship services.
  • Volunteer – Love animals? Volunteer at the Humane Society. Like to help others? Volunteer at a food pantry. Like sports? Volunteer at a Boys & Girls Club.

How can you help others strengthen their natural supports?  

  • Listen carefully and help individuals discover and express their interests and talents.
  • Learn more about activities individuals are already involved in and explore ways connections can be strengthened.
  • Make a list of community resources that fit the individual’s interests.
  • Help individuals explore their communities to find activities and resources that fit their interests.
  • Encourage and help individuals attend social or community activities.
  • Ask others for ideas and help.
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