Understanding Natural Supports: Enhancing Inclusion and Independence

Understanding Natural Supports: Enhancing Inclusion and Independence

Natural supports refer to the resources and assistance provided by family, friends, co-workers, and community members in our daily lives. These supports play a crucial role in enhancing the inclusion and independence of individuals, especially those with disabilities or special needs. This article explores the concept of natural supports, their benefits, and how they can be effectively utilized to foster a more inclusive and independent society.

What are Natural Supports?

Natural supports are the informal networks of assistance that come from relationships in a person’s life, rather than professional services or paid supports. These can include help from family members, friendship circles, neighbors, and colleagues. Natural supports are often based on mutual interests, shared experiences, and common goals, making them a vital component of social inclusion and personal autonomy.

Types of Natural Supports

  • Emotional Support: Offering empathy, care, and encouragement.
  • Informational Support: Sharing knowledge and advice to help someone make decisions or solve problems.
  • Physical Support: Providing practical help with tasks or activities.
  • Social Support: Facilitating connections with others to build a sense of belonging and community.

Benefits of Natural Supports

Natural supports offer numerous benefits for individuals and communities alike. They not only promote inclusion and independence but also contribute to the overall well-being of everyone involved.

For Individuals

  • Enhances self-esteem and confidence
  • Improves mental and emotional health
  • Increases opportunities for learning and development
  • Supports greater independence and autonomy

For Communities

  • Builds stronger, more resilient communities
  • Promotes diversity and inclusion
  • Reduces reliance on formal support systems and services
  • Encourages a culture of mutual aid and cooperation

Implementing Natural Supports

Implementing natural supports involves recognizing and nurturing the potential within existing relationships and networks. It requires a collaborative approach, where the needs and preferences of the individual are central to the process.

Strategies for Enhancing Natural Supports

  1. Identify existing relationships and networks that can provide support.
  2. Encourage open communication and mutual respect among all parties involved.
  3. Provide education and resources to natural supporters to increase their capacity to assist.
  4. Create opportunities for social interaction and community engagement.
  5. Recognize and celebrate the contributions of natural supporters.

Challenges and Considerations

While natural supports offer many advantages, there are also challenges and considerations that must be addressed to ensure their effectiveness.


  • Lack of awareness or understanding of natural supports
  • Potential for over-reliance on certain individuals, leading to burnout
  • Difficulty in identifying and mobilizing natural supports in some cases
  • Need for ongoing support and training for natural supporters


  • Ensuring the dignity and autonomy of the individual are respected
  • Maintaining a balance between formal and natural supports
  • Adapting strategies to meet the unique needs and preferences of each individual
  • Building sustainable and reciprocal support networks


Natural supports are an invaluable resource for promoting inclusion and independence among individuals, particularly those with disabilities or special needs. By leveraging the strength of existing relationships and community networks, we can create a more supportive and inclusive society. However, it is essential to approach natural supports with care, ensuring that the needs and preferences of the individual are always at the forefront. With the right strategies and considerations, natural supports can significantly enhance the quality of life for individuals and strengthen community bonds.

Further Reading and Resources

For those interested in learning more about natural supports and how to implement them effectively, the following resources may be helpful:

  • National Center on Workforce and Disability
  • The Arc’s Center for Future Planning
  • Inclusion Press International
  • Community Tool Box by the University of Kansas