Part III: Principles of Heart & Soul Speech
Empowerment + Sustainable Therapy + Natural Environment = Independence
What is a “Natural Environment?”
A natural environment is often thought of as the home – or any other setting where you may feel “at home.” However, when doing therapy in a ‘natural environment,’ it actually refers to the therapy process. The plan of care includes the family’s typical and valued activities. It’s taking the family’s priorities and targeting them in a real-world context.
This is great news for families because therapy and learning can literally be done anywhere! So far, I’ve met patients at their homes, neighborhood park, public library, McDonald’s, and Walmart parking lot. Goals are more easily targeted when practice opportunities are relevant, interesting, and authentic. It’s my job as a speech-language pathologist to guide caregivers to realistic and appropriate targets and model strategies with opportunities for supportive practice.
What are the benefits to doing therapy in a natural environment?
Children learn through participating in their everyday activities and through meaningful experiences with their family and caregivers (Woods, 2008). Typical and authentic interactions with others result in more frequent and longer engagement. It also provided natural consequences and opportunities for immediate feedback in the moment. Common routines such as sorting laundry, feeding the dog, ordering an ice cream, saying hi to the neighbor, or grocery shopping all provide meaningful and functional opportunities for development. In a natural environment, the speech pathologist is able to serve as a coach to overcome barriers in their daily routines and make progress with therapeutic priorities. This model also allows maximum collaboration, engagement, empowerment, and independence.
Real world=Real Results
Research shows that opportunities to practice skills in daily life are just as important to the amount of hands-on therapy received (Novak, 2012). So, too much therapy without real world practice may actually slow down progress. It’s scary to leave the safe, supportive therapy environment. I totally get it. But natural feedback outside of therapy can provide direction, advancement, and new goals for targeting.
Caregiver coaching in a natural setting can allow families to implement a daily routine without changing things that already work well, how to use strategies that blend into their life easily, and how to enrich the environment to increase independence.
Speech-language pathologists have the ability to empower families to use tools and strategies to be successful. Helping families help themselves is a powerful partnership. At Heart & Soul Speech, we want to partner with families, start where they are comfortable, use what already works well, and build and grow together in the real world.
This is the final part in our Principles of Heart & Soul Speech series. Be sure to check out Part I: Empowerment and Part II: Sustainability if you missed it! Thank you for following along. I’d love to hear your thoughts!